Solving the Ribery riddle

It’s been an outstanding, match-winning, disappointing, frustrating few days for Franck Ribery. In other words, a typical week in the life of the mercurial Frenchman.

The Bayern Munich winger was on top of the world after steering his team to a vital 2-0 win over Schalke on Sunday, but had a night to forget three days later when France played Germany.

Capable of brilliance one minute and mediocrity the next, adored in Bavaria but mistrusted in France, Ribery divides opinion as never before.

Ribery: Bayern's main man

Ribery: Bayern's main man

Ribery was world class against Schalke. He was the best player on the pitch and scored a fine goal in each half.

Never Mind the Ballacks caught up with Eurosport experts Rafael Benitez and Steffen Freund after the match and both purred over Ribery’s display.

The scene was set for Ribery, who has been in poor form for his country, to wreak havoc on Germany’s defence in Bremen on Wednesday.

Such was Ribery’s confidence that before the Bremen match he bet Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, the team doctor for Bayern and the national team, that he would score a goal and celebrate in front of the German bench.

Former Bayern star and French World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu issued a pre-match rallying call.

”One match can’t wipe out all our doubts about Ribery but the match against Germany must be the start of a revival. When he puts on the blue shirt, he does not have the confidence that he does for Bayern. His strength was spontaneity but he become less naive and less spontaneous.”

In Munich, Ribery made mincemeat of Schalke right back and captain Benedikt Howedes, the man tipped to line up for Germany against Ribery in Bremen.

Perhaps fearful of a repeat, Germany coach Joachim Loew preferred Ribery’s Bayern teammate Jerome Boateng at right back, but when the match got under way any defender in the Bundesliga could have dealt with the threat from the Frenchman.

Indeed, Ribery’s hopes of making a real impact lasted less than 300 seconds. After getting a kick from Marco Reus, Ribery never settled and was subbed at half-time.

Ribery: French flop in Bremen

Ribery: French flop in Bremen

While his Bayern teammate Arjen Robben shone against England at Wembley, Ribery was rated the worst French player on the pitch by French sports bible L’Equipe.

So yet again Ribery shone for Bayern and failed for France.

Ribery, remember, is the Bundesliga’s top-scoring midfielder this season with ten goals, and a player who has scored an impressive 41 in 119 Bundesliga games.

The best-paid player in Bundesliga history (Ribery’s post-tax income is reported at 6.5 million euros a year) is largely seen as good value following his 27 million euro transfer from Marseille in 2007.

But everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the Ribery enigma.

European Parliament member and football fan Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who shot to fame in France as a student leader during the May 1968 anti-government protests, thinks he understands the conundrum.

”Germans still think of Ribery as the unknown who exploded on the scene. German crowds are easy to impress and they love this kind of player,” Cohn-Bendit analysed.

Talking of politics, if you think that France President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are the key figures in the Franco-German alliance, think again.

”It’s a shame Ribery has ever appeared at an international Franco-German event, or at the Bastille Day procession,” opined Paul Fischer, director of international relations for the State of Bavaria. ”He has a complicated personality, which can constitute a bit of a problem. But great players are often like that.”

Clearly Ribery’s naivety charms the Germans, where is lovingly called ”Monsieur le Wahsinn” (Mr. Crazy) but rankles with the French.

In truth, France’s love affair with Ribery, a star of the 2006 World Cup, was brief.

Ribery has just 7 goals in 57 games for Les Bleus. He was seen as one of the infamous ringleaders when French players went on strike during the 2010 World Cup. 

Indeed, his stock was already low before South Africa: after an ill-fated attempt at hosting a French TV chat show, Ribery was investigated for involvement in an underage prostitution ring that centered on Zahia Dehar.

Unfortunately for Ribery, and the other players investigated, the young Zahia, who turned 20 last week, has recently resurfaced as the face (or should that be the body) of a new line of lingerie, and has been snapped by famed photographer Karl Lagerfeld, a German who lives successfully in France.

Whatever becomes of Zahia, France’s impressive 2-1 win in Bremen could leave Ribery in the cold ahead of Euro 2012. But increasingly, Bayern will rely on their unpredictable Frenchman if they want to win back their Bundesliga title this season.

Andreas Evagora

Deputy Head


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This weekend’s Bundesliga action gets underway Saturday with Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munich (15:30 CET). Catch high-flying Dortmund v Mainz (18:30). Then on Sunday we have two live matches: Nurenberg v Moenchengladbach and Hoffenheim v Cologne.

Highlights of all matches at 19:30 on Sunday. Coverage in North and East Europe.

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