It is also a little due to German ignorance that Christian Schulz has to be used to this day when talking about the important moments in Franck Ribéry’s career. The German audience should have looked a little more closely at the 2006 World Cup in their own country, when a French national team, ostensibly defined by the great Zinédine Zidane, almost won. Behind Zidane, however, the discovery of the tournament was a young French winger who didn’t really catch the eye of the Germans, in the frenzy between Poldi, Schweini, Klinsi and the Italians who ended the summer’s tale ahead of the final.
A street footballer was playing with the French. One from the Pas-de-Calais in the north of the country, a working-class kid, a rogue with a conspicuous scar, who twirled around Zidane like an assistant, dribbled out the great Roberto Carlos in the quarter-finals against Brazil – and a year later that pitiful Bremer Schulz.
0:4 against the direct Bayern rival – from now on Ribéry was known
The game on the second match day of the 2007/08 season can be ranked with honor as one of the milestones in the history of the Bundesliga. Among other things, because in the 79th minute Ribéry came to the ball after a Bremen corner in his own penalty area, let it dance on his foot and then, just as Schulz wanted to intervene powerfully, lifted it briefly so that the Bremen player hit an air hole and fell remained behind while Ribéry initiated the counterattack. Luca Toni, Hamit Altintop, 0: 3. In the end it was 0:4, with two goals from Ribéry. After the disgrace of the previous season and the missed qualification for the Champions League, FC Bayern had dismantled the then most sustainable competitor from Bremen. And from that afternoon on, Ribéry was known in Germany.
Of course, Uli Hoeneß saw this coming when, together with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, he considered in the spring how FC Bayern could be brought back to the top of the Bundesliga and among the elite clubs in Europe. “We had to set an example,” Hoeneß later told the author Ronald Reng about this summer of transfers, in which the Munich team took Klose, but above all Toni, the world champion, and Ribéry, the World Cup runner-up, for the record sum of 25 million euros at the time from Olympique Marseille.
Klose’s somersaults, Toni’s goals, Ribéry’s dribbles, that was the beginning of a new era in which the show should count, not just football: For many years, defenders like Schulz had been able to stop FC Bayern with their powerful intervention, those times should be over – and they couldn’t have picked a better showman than the Frenchman who always played to play.
Ricardo Quaresma and Arjen Robben were the alternatives for the spectacle, but in the end FC Bayern opted for the dribbler with the tragic, idiosyncratic story, they brought in the perfectionist Robben later when they realized that the fun factor alone wasn’t enough.
At 19 he had to work in road construction to pay off debts
Ribéry’s successful career was marked by the times when nothing indicated he would ever win the Champions League except his talent. He briefly gave up football at age 19 and worked on road construction sites with father Francois to pay off debts he had accumulated growing up. He came to Marseille via FC Metz and Galatasaray Istanbul, from there to Zidane’s side, then finally to FC Bayern, which was actually only supposed to be a through station, at least until early summer 2010.
“I’ve done five years more,” Ribéry announced from the Munich City Hall balcony at the time after Bayern were denied the crowning glory in the Champions League final against Inter Milan, also because the Crown Prince was suspended in the final. Ribéry’s extension until 2015, which cemented FC Bayern’s status as a permanent contender for major titles, would not have been possible had he not found a family home in Munich. A home where Hoeneß protected him like a foster son and where he was forgiven for any scandal: Red cards, like those in the semifinals against Lyon 2010, were among them, but also far more fatal ones, like the affair about an underage prostitute and the debate about a gold steak.
He didn’t always get along with Robben – but both knew that they could only achieve great things together
In France he was sharply condemned for this, Ribéry ended his national team career in 2014 in a dispute with the country and the team. In Munich, they continued to cheer for him, because of the numerous titles, because of the assist in the 89th minute in the 2013 Champions League final, despite the injuries that kept throwing him back and precisely because of his willfulness. The family, with Hoeneß whom Ribéry was one of the few players to visit in prison. With David Alaba, the little brother on the left, who learned a lot from his Frenchman. And of course with Robben, the right-hand side partner in a duo where the two protagonists were never entirely at peace with their different approaches to football and life, but always knew that only together could they shape an era.
Rib & Rob, Robbery, Badman and Robben, as the Munich fans once called them in a choreography, shaped a decade in Bavaria and the Bundesliga. But when they said goodbye in May 2019, of course both with goals, only one career ended: Robben withdrew, his brief comeback in Groningen failed due to injuries. Ribéry, on the other hand, moved on to Florence, where he played excellently for two years until his contract was not renewed and only promoted Salernitana remained to continue playing. The Filou couldn’t help it, he played again as captain in the relegation battle of Serie A, until his knee, which had been inflamed for months, apparently forced him to end his career – as reported by several media on Friday.
Maybe, she wrote L’Equipe in France, but he also returns again, at least for one game. For saying goodbye, which was so difficult for him. Because in the life of Franck Ribéry, between scandals and goals, alongside Alaba, Toni and Zidane and dribbling against Roberto Carlos, Schulz and numerous other defenders with whiplash, the joy of football was always what drove him.