While a nation rejoiced in the city of Berlin as Die Nationalmannschaft returned home with the coveted World Cup for the first time since reunification, a calming aura was captured in the heart of Munich: Franck Ribéry completed his first training session with FC Bayern since an unfortunate back injury ruled him out of participating in Brazil.
The moment Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal final, a colorless Ribéry first began to trudge into his own abyss of doom. A man once known for his bombastic celebrations (he attempted to lightheartedly escape with the DFB trophy after winning it in 2010), Ribéry was uncharacteristically reserved throughout this celebratory night. Caught in two minds, his aloofness may have stemmed from a physically damaged state and an overwhelmed psychology.
It wasn’t the easiest year for the Frenchman. His drastic capitulation since losing out on the Balon d’Or to Cristiano Ronaldo forced Bayern to rely heavily on Arjen Robben’s directness and Thomas Müller’s industry during the latter stages of the previous season. Ribéry’s mental absence led to a decline in form, and a lethargic attitude caused him to become a yoke limiting the full potential of Guardiola’s side. At the age of 31, it’ll be difficult for the winger to re-attain his explosive pace.
It’s a shame, because Ribéry is considered one of the best footballers in the world, a reputation partially stemming from his ability to overcome his unfortunate history. From facing expulsion in high school to playing football without wage in Turkey, he has experienced a variety of life’s pastures. A sex scandal with an underage prostitute and a failed coup against Raymond Domenech in the last World Cup have induced France enthusiasts to point the finger at Ribéry’s narcissism to overshadow his technical genius. Franck Ribéry became a pariah in the land of his upbringing.
And throughout all of this, Bavaria has stood by him.
To emphatically bounce back, he rediscovered his inner beacon: Ribéry not only lifted Bayern to a treble in 2013, but he reflected a great deal of leadership while doing so. Mentoring David Alaba and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg as his own, Franck also managed to rekindle the child within by pulling pranks on teammates. Winning European Player of the Year was only the icing on the cake, as such a prestigious award granted by reputable journalists in Monaco represented his opportunity to be positively received closer to home. Guiding France to a World Cup berth against Ukraine while playing with a broken rib illustrates the lengths he will go to win back hearts he once lost.
This denotes his blue-collar attitude that makes him a fan favorite in Munich. His work-rate and prodigious technical ability pay tribute to the harsh realities he’s had to confront. Franck Ribéry is more than just an archetypal winger; his ability to channel his troubles into unwavering dedication on the field makes him unparalleled as a professional footballer.
Sadly, missing the World Cup hindered everything he’d been fighting for. Brazil was the platform for him to redefine his career in the Les Bleus colors. Upon retirement, Zinedine Zidane dubbed his protégé as the ‘crown jewel of French football’. The latter was ready to fulfill prior aspirations and regain the faith of his compatriots. And yet, it seems all the more impossible.
In an article written by Susie Schaaf, Ribéry was perceived as Bayern’s biggest disappointment of the year, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Bayern’s drubbing at the feet of Madrid in the Allianz Arena is best exemplified by the frustrated winger, who was flailing elbows into faces and was very lucky to stay on the field when everyone else demanded he leave it.
It was a cathartic moment, to say the least. We were witnessing a player being haunted by ghosts of his past, who was expressing his discomfort through hysterical frustration. The elements of Ribéry’s youth that made him so unpredictable was alarmingly missing. From Bayern’s secret and Bavaria’s pride, Franck Ribéry became just another aging footballer.
And with new recruit Juan Bernat only adding to the competition for a starting berth in one of the most demanding clubs in the world, Ribéry must desperately seek solace if he is to rediscover the form that has made him a cult figure in Munich. If he expects to be served in a silver platter of yesteryear, he’s in for a shock. Pep Guardiola isn’t going to be doing him any favors.
Nonetheless, I’m hoping that Franck Ribéry shadows the elongated career of Ryan Giggs at Manchester United. Giggs shifted from the wing to the middle during his late-twenties to showcase his technical brilliance, while maintaining the rudimentary physical standards to participate in top-flight. To combat his recurring hamstring injuries, Giggs took the initiative of practicing yoga as a regular form of mind- and-body sustainability. Retiring at the staggering age of forty, Giggs hasn’t looked back since. The transition from winger to playmaker requires less pace and greater vision, making it a feat Ribéry can achieve only if he stays disciplined to the club’s cause and obedient to the manager. Losing his chi may force him to hang up his boots much earlier than expected.
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