It seems that even when Franck Ribery wins, he loses.
The Bundesliga’s highest-ever paid player finally hit form during Bayern’s vital 2-1 victory at Hoffenheim on Tuesday. But in setting up the Bavarians’ equalizer, he damaged ankle ligaments and will be out for at least four weeks. Bayern face table topping Mainz this weekend, a match you can follow live on Eurosport2, but Ribery will again be watching from the stands.
It’s the latest blow to the mercurial Frenchman, whose stock has plunged dramatically since being one of the hottest properties in world football only a year ago.
Bayern are putting a positive spin on his latest injury.
“Franck will not require surgery” said Bayern’s director of sport, Christian Nerlinger. ”That is good luck in his bad luck.”
And after a year of woe, Ribery needs all the luck he can get after:
* Being identified as one of the ringleaders of France’s notorious player strike at the World Cup.
* Coming under judicial investigation into an alleged under-age prostitution ring, the so-called Zahia Affair.
* Missing the 2010 Champions League final for violent conduct.
* Struggling with form and fitness at Bayern.
How did it all go so wrong?
After an outstanding 2006 World Cup, Ribery was a much-loved character in France.
His was a story of success against the odds: Ribery hails from the tough town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, considered by many French as the ugliest and (with an unemployment rate above 25 percent) grimmest place in their country. When the Ribery family car was hit by a truck, two-year-old Franck was left with deep, lifelong scares on his face.
Coming out of his teens, Ribery was still earning a living as a construction worker, having to borrow a pair of boots to get a trial at unfashionable Brest, who then played in the French amateur leagues.
Then everything turned around for Ribery. Jean Fernandez spotted his raw talent and brought him to first division Metz. A brief, spectacular spell at Galatasaray ended in controversy: always a rough diamond, Ribery walked out of the Turkish club and was sued for breach of contract. No matter. Ribery was in irresistible form and forced his way into the French national side. A move to Marseille was sealed before a mega 30 million euro transfer to Bayern.
In Munich, coach Juergen Klinsmann described the midfielder’s ”God-given talent.”
Zinedine Zidane, about the closest thing to God in France, called him ”the jewel of French football.”
Off the pitch, Ribery converted to Islam to marry his childhood sweetheart. He was even given his own show on national French television.
Then came Ribery’s annus horribilis.
The 27-year-old was restricted to only 19 games for Bayern last season and his total of four goals was his lowest since leaving Metz in 2005.
For the French, the final straw came in South Africa on 20 June 2010. That morning, a contrite Ribery bizarrely burst on to the set of TF1’s live Telefoot programme.
”I’m talking from the heart,” he proclaimed. ”France is suffering and I am suffering.” Hours later, Ribery was one of the supposed leaders of a training boycott and suddenly a national debacle was being played out to an angry French public.
The tide had turned. Ribery’s sketchy command of the language of Molière was no longer seen as cute. Seething at the negative publicity of the Zahia Affair, the mayor of Boulougne-sur-Mer fought tooth and nail to prevent a giant billboard of Ribery being plastered in the town.
It’s not all glum for Ribery. But a new long-term contract will see him rake in a staggering 10 million euros a year.
But if there’s another repeat of last season, Bayern might be ruing a very expensive mistake.
You can watch Bayern v Mainz LIVE on Eurosport2 this Saturday at 15:30. Our other live matches are Cologne v Hoffenheim (Friday, 20:30), Bremen v Hamburg (Saturday, 18:30), Wolfsburg v Freiburg (Sunday, 15:30) and Kaiserslautern v Hannover (Sunday, 17:30). We’ll show highlights of all the matches on Sunday at 19:30.