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Booed in Marseille: A peak into Ribéry’s recent years

German giants Bayern Munich took a huge step to securing a place in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League by defeating Olympique de Marseille, the French team playing on home soil. The match saw plenty of yellow cards for the Germans (five in total) together with goals by Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben. Other interesting sights were completely empty sections of the Stade Vélodrome-the stadium is getting a huge makeover for the Euro 2016-a third choice keeper on the French side, and a not so quite upset Bastian Schweinsteiger, who managed to get a rather quick yellow card just eleven minutes after being subbed in.

One of the not so welcomed surprises of the night, however, was the quite intensive booing of Bayern left winger Franck Ribéry, a two-season veteran of Marseille who reportedly had looked forward being back at his former arena; one that saw him reach the finals of the Coupe de France twice while at the club.

Bayern fans will remember the Frenchman joined the Bavarians in 2007 after a €25 million deal between the two clubs. It was a rather unexpected and hostile environment which caught both fans and players from the German side by surprise. The question lingered as to what sort of feelings could have generated such a controversial gesture by the Marseillais.

The following paragraphs are an excerpt from an article that was published about Franck Ribéry on World Soccer magazine on their December of 2011 issue and which provides plenty of answers to that question. You will also learn interesting details about Ribéry’s career, his personal life, and his relationship with both club and country. The article has been reproduced in part here reflecting only the relevant portions. Enjoy.

Not surprisingly for someone born on April Fool’s Day, Bayern Munich and France wide-man Franck Ribéry has spent his whole career concocting dressing-room pranks. The trouble is, fans in his homeland who once loved his spontaneity and everyman qualities no longer get the joke and they were turned stony-faced by his penchant for negative headlines last year.

Popularity can easily be lost, and Ribéry mislaid his not once but twice in 2010: first giving the media a field day by indulging in a liaison with an underage prostitute, and then by playing a significant part in the ‘House of Horrors’ that was Les Bleus’ World Cup campaign in South Africa.

Expected to be one of his side’s surest sources of creativity and leadership at those finals, Ribéry failed on both counts, his only contribution being a nasty campaign of harassment conducted against the team’s so-called golden boy, Yoann Gourcuff, and a readiness to sign up for the “Mutiny of Knysna” on the day the France squad refused to train.

The tournament should have been a showcase for his unique skills: his impish dribbling, those blistering bursts of acceleration and an instinct for risk-taking. Instead, he thought it fit to take on the role of egocentric diva, even going so far as to invite himself on to the set of a live TV football program to say his piece.

As France coach Raymond Domenech, who was the show’s supposed interviewee, looked on with bemusement, Ribéry denied he had fought with Gourcuff, revealed his inner torment at the side’s poor results and promised to do everything In his power to help his side win their last opening-round game against South Africa. It was not a good idea. Certain team-mates thought he only made the small-screen Intervention to save his own skin, while the media deemed him insincere. Later that day his words went up in smoke as the squad reacted to Nicolas Anelka’s sacking by going on strike.

Some people told Ribéry he was the brains of the team and he came to believe it, scoffed legendary France striker Juste Fontaine.

How public perceptions can change from one World Cup to the next. Four years previously, Ribéry was everyone’s favourite cheeky chappie, the rooks who could not believe his luck to be training with the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry. Fast forward and the only image is that of the scapegoat. Ribéry received a three-match ban from the national team for his part in the South Africa affair and, although Domenech’s successor Laurent Blanc was quick to bring him back into the fold, there remain many fans, journalists and ex-pro pundits who believe he should have been cut for good. Only by keeping his head down and consistently hitting the heights at Euro 2012 can he hope to restore the nationwide appeal he used to enjoy.

Controversy, particularly surrounding transfers, has always been the mountain range on the Ribéry landscape.

He spent just half a season at his first Ligue 1 club, Metz, before cutting out in January 2005 to join Turkish heavyweights Galatasaray. He then left the Istanbul side after six months — at zero cost to Marseille, his next club —when Gala were adjudged to have fallen behind with his salary payments. Most recently, two years ago, he tried to force Bayern Munich to sell him to Real Madrid in a tempestuous clash of wills.

He should, however, have known better, as Bayern don’t do player ultimatums, but it was not the first time a club of Ribéry’s had put paid to his hopes of a move. An excellent first season at Marseille, followed by an 11th-hour call-up to France’s 2006 World Cup squad and a string of outstanding performances as the team finished runners-up in Germany, put Ribéry top of the shopping list of Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas and he promptly went on TV to demand a transfer. But Marseille owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus would have none of it, and in August 2006 he made a surprise visit to the OM hotel on the day of a UEFA Cup tie with Young Boys of Berne.

Ribéry, who was most unwilling to turn out that night for fear of being cup-tied, seemed determined to play hardball, only for Louis-Dreyfus to inform him in no uncertain terms that he was going nowhere, but sugaring the pill with the revelation that Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Liverpool had all made offers for him and were prepared to let Ribéry stay at OM for another year. He acquiesced, took part in the game and joined Bayern 12 months later in a €25 million deal.

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  • MUTU says:

    Excellent article! Ribéry is a largely underrated player. He has been unlucky in that France is in a rut at the height of his career, so he has proven nothing on the international stage.