Tuesday 10 December 2019

The riddle of Ribery

Tim Rich

There will be two Franks in the European Cup final. One is urbane, intelligent, one of the tiny number of public schoolboys to have made it in the modern game and certainly the only member on either side to have a qualification in Latin.

Outwardly at least, Frank Lampard has had a comfortable life. Nobody ever called Franck Ribery comfortable, not in his personality, not in his upbringing and certainly not in his looks.

He was two years old when, sitting in the back seat of his father's car, he was propelled through the windscreen as Francois Ribery slammed on the breaks to avoid a head-on collision.

It says something that Ribery has never been tempted to have plastic surgery on the long scar down the side of his face. Curiously, Carlos Tevez felt much the same about his own scars, inflicted by a kettle of boiling water falling on him as a baby. He said they were a part of him and to Ribery they acted as a kind of motivation.

There is another similarity; they are both divisive characters. Not very long ago, one of Tevez's former team-mates was interviewed about the Argentinian. He said all the right things about Tevez and then, once the tape recorder was shut off, he leaned forward and said: "Now let me tell you what I really think of Carlos Tevez."

It would have been interesting to have been alone with Arjen Robben and asked a similar question about Ribery. Amid the intensity of Bayern Munich's semi-final with Real Madrid, Robben told Ribery that Toni Kroos should take a free-kick. Ribery objected, argued with the Dutchman as they came off and then, reportedly punched him in the face.

When Ribery came to Munich from Marseilles in 2007, he arrived as the star. To Franz Beckenbauer, the club president, it was "winning the lottery."

However, Robben's arrival from Madrid slowly saw Ribery eclipsed. They are both wingers, both thrillingly brilliant, butthey are a double act who have come to loathe each other.

Robben is not a team man. As Bayern's lead in the Bundesliga evaporated under pressure from Borussia Dortmund, he found himself on the bench, accused by Beckenbauer of being "an egoist."

And yet tonight in their own stadium, Robben and Ribery will have to combine like never before. The pressure on them is intense and Jupp Heynckes' defence has been ruined by suspensions every bit as much as Roberto di Matteo's.

Ribery does not lack for motivation. "It is," he said, "the most important game of my life," bigger than the World Cup final in Berlin in 2006.

He said he wanted to feel the Cup in his hands just as Eric Abidal, the man he is closest to in football, had done last year at Wembley.

Abidal, who is about to undergo a liver transplant, remarked that you make very few real friends in the game, but that Ribery had seen him through some very dark times. Ribery replied: "I just hope that when it comes to the final, I can show his courage."

Ribery stands at a crossroads. When he took his first steps at Marseilles, he seemed in a direct line of succession from Michel Platini and Zidane. Yet by his age Platini had won the European Championship and the European Cup and Zidane was a world champion. Ribery does not possess those medals.

Ribery grew up in Boulogne on what was called the Chemin Vert -- the Green Path -- and he worked with his father as a road-mender. They said that what motivated Yorkshire footballers was fear of the pit. Ribery has the road-works. He bought his father a plasma TV from the proceeds of his first contract and then a house. When he comes back to Boulogne, he slips into the dialect of northern France and hangs around fast food restaurants with old school friends.

This made it all the more astonishing that, having converted to Islam to marry Wahiba, he should have cavorted with an underage prostitute, who was said to have earned £20,000 a month from her relationship with footballers. The country turned on him.

Then, when the France squad trained for the World Cup in South Africa, things got worse. Ribery did not rate Bordeaux's Yoann Gourcuff and wanted Sidney Govou replaced by Thierry Henry. He was not the only one. The revolt tore the team apart and it is something for which Ribery has not been forgiven.

He has not scored a goal for his country in three years and he has been jeered at the Stade de France. "I feel rejected in France," said Ribery. "And do you know why I signed for Bayern when I could have gone anywhere? Because they made me feel wanted." (© Independent News Service)

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