One of my earliest memories of Franck Ribéry was when me and my father were with the Bayern Munich fans watching the new French signing single-handedly give Bayern three points at the Rewirpower-Stadion in Bochum. During a chilly afternoon in October in 2007, Dennis Grote gave the lead to the for the blue Ruhr team in a game where Hitzfeld’s men were far below par. The only attacking outlet Bayern had all game was to lend the ball to the then 24-year-old winger. It proved to be enough. Every time the French magician got the ball he created danger, equalizing and providing an assist to ensure Bayern went home to Bavaria with the three points.
It didn’t take long until the Bayern fans created own chants about their new number 7. Using the tune from Joe Dassin’s Champs Elysées (same tune used in the N’Golo Kante Song), Ribéry started to hear continuously chants from the fans whenever he got the ball and started to terrorize the Bundesliga defense:
‘’OOOOOHHH FRANCK RIBERYYY
OOOOOH FRANCK RIBERYYY
IS NICHT GROß, (he is not big)
IS EHER KLEIN (is rather small)
ER SOLL UNSER KÖNIG SEIN VON UNSEREM REKORDVEREIN (but he is the king of our record club)
FRANCK RIBERY SHA LA LA LA LA’’
‘Bayern hat wieder einen König’
The foreign king had arrived. It was not like the Bayern fans had never seen a quick and equally skillful individual before. Mehmet Scholl’s creative play enchanted many fans who were blessed to see him in his prime at the Olympiastadion. Supporters had also gotten to view the samba-skills from the Brazilian natives Ze Roberto and Giovane Elber. Yet, they had never seen anyone quite like the Boulogne-sur-Mer native. Although no taller than 1.70 meters (5’7 inches), Ribéry showed directly that he was no push-over. While many wingers, especially in the modern game, goes down easily when being exposed to contact, Ribéry fought back which often made him prone to sending-off’s but only increased the admiration the Bayern fans had for him.
He was a provocateur on the field of play and was described by UEFA as a crowd-pleaser who had a rare breed of combining his footballing talents while also expressing them.
Above all his lovable characteristics, Franck will retire as a Bayern-legend because of his unquestionable loyalty for Bayern. Ever since Ribéry’s first game against Hansa Rostock at the Allianz Arena, a moment the Frenchmen described as the instantly best moment of his career, Ribéry’s outspoken love for the Bavarian club never reached a limit. After all, Munich and the atmosphere at Säbener Strasse might have been the first place where the once poor-kid from Boulogne-sur-Mer found a place where he was accepted.
The ‘Scarface’ from Boulogne
Franck Henry Pierre Ribéry was born in a low-income neighborhood on the fringes of Boulogne-sur-Mer, a coastal French city close to the Belgian border. Little Franck already beat the odds very early in life, when he survived what could have easily been a fatal car crash. Over a hundred stitches were made on the right side of his face, creating the nickname ‘Scarface’ amongst his fellow classmates.
Commenting on his accident, Ribéry has stated:
They gave me character and this strength. Because, when you are a child and you have a scar like this, it’s not easy. The way people see you, the comments - my family suffered for this. The people who talk about you are the parents (of other children), and this is very cruel. I never went to a corner and cried, despite suffering.
It is clear that the early tough childhood has given Franck strength, with many famous sports personalities, including former coach Pep Guardiola, has praised his fighting spirit. Despite being bullied as a child, despite being released out of Lille’s Academy and despite continuous career-threatening injuries, Franck Ribery has never stopped fighting.
A new home
Considering that in 2013, Ribéry was one, if not the, best player in the world, the fact that he debuted in the French league for the first time as a 21-year-old is enough to consider him as a bit of a ‘late-bloomer’. He was released by Lille’s Academy for behavior reasons, although Ribery believed his size was the main reason. He started in the reserves in his hometown club as a 17-year-old, Ribéry had already been in four different clubs when Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray came knocking. His time in Turkey was not successful, as he argued that he had not been paid his wages by the club while also stating that he had been physically threatened by his former agent who was holding a baseball bat.
Ribéry’s first real success came at his sixth club, Marseille. During his first season at the club, Ribéry scored 12 goals in 53 appearances for the club. His first season at Marseille was enough for Raymond Domenech to decide to include Ribéry instead of Ludovic Giuly, a decision that left many French fans mystified at first. Ribéry started all but one game in the 2006 edition and proved to be one of the breakout stars in a defensive French side. His goal against Spain in the 16th final and the passionate celebration was one of the first time ‘Scarface’ introduced himself for the wider World football audience.
A year after the success at the World Cup, Bayern Munich bought the Frenchmen for a then club-record of €25 million. At the age of 24, it was then the 7th club for the troubled talent. Little did he know, after a tumultuous childhood epitomized by rejection from first his peers then the Lille Academy, he would find a new home at one of the biggest football institutions in the World.
Becoming one of the world’s best
While speaking about Ottmar Hitzfeldt, Ribéry’s first coach at Bayern, the French international emphasizes on ‘the small things’ Ottmar did such as continuously asking how he and his family is and whether they or he needed anything. Small details sure, but for Ribéry, who undoubtedly still was affected by his first foreign experience, it meant that he had made the right choice in choosing Bayern.
Arguably, Ribéry’s first six seasons at Bayern can be seen as one of the best performances Bayern supporters have seen since the turn of the century. From 2007 to 2013, Ribery scored 79 goals in all competitions winning three Bundesliga titles, three DFB-Pokal titles and the famous UEFA Champions League title in 2013.
Ribéry’s story as a bullied kid in a poor neighborhood fitted right into the ‘FC Hollywood’ atmosphere.
Apart from being a success on the pitch, Ribéry established himself as the club joker. His funny and energetic attitude made that while he had fun on the pitch, Ribéry became one of the crucial characters in Bayern’s dressing room.
A club who’ve always had his back
Ribéry’s ‘bad boy’ persona did not disappear while he was at Bayern as he is frequently the subject of less positive headlines. After the ‘Salt-bae’ fiasco, when Ribéry got fined from Bayern after using vulgar words when hitting back on ‘journalists’ who criticized his meeting with the internet-icon, the Bayern fans responded with a banner saying: “Franck, bleib wer du bist! Wir sind mit dir!” translating to ‘Franck, remain who you are, we are with you’.
This banner epitomizes the supporters and staff’s feeling for their own FC. Hollywood bad boy. In April 2010, it was reported that four members of the French national team were being investigated for having sex with an underage prostitute, one of them turning out to be Franck Ribéry. Instead of throwing out in the cold, the Bayern bosses decide to back him and Ribéry decided to repay that support when Hoeness went to prison by paying him a visit.
It is not the first time that Ribéry has gotten in trouble. This season he hit a reporter after Bayern’s loss to Borussia Dortmund and he has previously been spotted smoking illegal substances while on holiday.
Nevertheless, his love from the fans has not started to decline because of these scandals. Franck Ribéry is far from the perfect person, but then again, who the hell is? His continued love and loyalty for the club combined with the obvious love for the game is a rare trait in the modern-day game. He will go down as one of the clubs most successful signings of all-time and one of the most loved characters in the rich history of FC Hollywood divas.
“Mit der number 7....FRANCK:”