The contrast between Franck Ribery in the red of Bayern Munich and the blue of France is a puzzle national team coach Laurent Blanc admits he can’t figure out.
Ribery’s best ever club season saw him star in Bayern Munich’s run to the Champions League final and break his personal scoring record.
For France,he cuts a frustrating figure,somewhere between trying too hard to repeat his club brilliance and desperate to win back the fans who once adored him.
They turned on him after France’s miserable World Cup campaign two years ago and his involvement in a prostitution scandal.
“Little signs,little things that sometimes make me feel like everything I do is forced,” Ribery said. “It was amazing when I started out in the national team. People loved me and I gave it back to them. I really want things to start over again. I used to be the crowd favorite,but then I was rejected.”
The fact he has not scored for France since April 2009 does not help,either,and Blanc is running out of patience with the European Championship starting in less than a month.
“It’s incomprehensible. He’s very good with his club and he can’t do it for France. He has a mental block,that’s for sure,” Blanc said recently in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper. “Given how good he is,he deserves our patience. Up to a certain point. We’re sticking with him,we believe in him,we’re helping him a lot. But others also need (our help). It’s not all about Franck.”
Blanc had made it clear that he doesn’t see Ribery as a leader in the way Zinedine Zidane was. Back in November,when Ribery expressed a desire to run things on the field,Blanc responded firmly by saying he would “not be given the keys” to the team.
Ribery’s insistence on playing on the left wing — his position at Bayern — has rarely worked,and is problematic because Florent Malouda also plays there.
This was highlighted at the 2010 World Cup when former coach Raymond Domenech alternated between them to little effect.
Ribery entered that campaign embroiled in a sex scandal for allegedly soliciting an underage prostitute. He left it completely shell-shocked after France’s training-ground strike shocked a nation.
Worse still for Ribery,with his family life in tatters,he was slapped with a three-match France ban for his perceived role as one of the strike’s ringleaders.
Politicians screamed in outrage,urging Blanc not to pick him ever again. Blanc ignored them,but the fans jeered Ribery when he made his home return against Croatia at Stade de France last year.
“I asked myself,’What am I doing here?’ I sometimes felt it was a bit nasty,” Ribery said in a television interview with Canal Plus. “‘Have I done something really bad?’ I was asking myself a lot of questions.”
The difference between the warmth Ribery receives from Bayern’s fans and the open scorn of some French fans is emphatic.
“I’m not going to start a fight with everyone,” he said. “Some people like me,some people don’t. What’s most important is that I enjoy life again,and enjoy playing again.”
Ribery,who has made 57 international appearances and scored seven goals,admits the prostitution scandal,of which he was cleared of wrongdoing,took its toll.
“It’s a big relief that it’s all over. It was hard to face up to it all … but it was harder for my loved ones and my wife,” Ribery said. “I messed up like never before. I was rubbish at the World Cup and people can resent me for that. But not for other stuff.”
Even in Marseille,where Ribery was the darling of the fans from 2005-07,there is no respite.
Ribery was mocked by Marseille’s fans during a Champions League match at Stade Velodrome in March. One banner even read: “Ribery,don’t run too fast,or your brain won’t be able to keep up.”
Ribery publicly thanked Blanc for sticking by him during his difficult times,and now he has to repay him at Euro 2012 by rediscovering the spark that made him an overnight star at the 2006 World Cup.
At 29,and with Blanc even questioning his France form,Ribery doesn’t have much time left.
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