Things haven’t gone the usual way for Franck Ribery. He wasn’t some child prodigy all of Europe was slobbering over. No one has ever called him the “best”. He’s just been very good, sometimes even excellent, for Bayern Munich over the years, finally winning the Champions League last season, and maybe getting recognized for it eventually with a major individual award.
For the first time, he is a candidate for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, which has been around since the European footballer of the year award, formerly the Ballon d’Or, was merged with the FIFA player of the year.
This season was the first time a Bayern Munich (four in total) was included in the final 10, and Ribery makes it through to the top 3, with the winner chosen between him, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Ribery isn’t the kind of star they are, or the dominant scorer. Since joining Bayern Munich he has had only one season (his first in 2007-2008) with 20 goals in all competitions. Last season, possibly his best, and enjoying a much better team around him than before, where he’s no longer forced to make everything happen, Ribery scored 11 goals in 43 matches, adding 20 assists.
Maybe winning the Champions League was his big moment. It’s hard to see France actually winning the World Cup in 2014, and after that Ribery might not be included in the grand plans for Euro 2016. He turned 30 last April, and once you enter the fourth decade of your life, any decline seems like the beginning of the end, even if Ribery looked excellent last season in almost every big match, especially against Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal.
Ribery might no longer be a winger like he has been since joining Bayern. Pep Guardiola seems to be changing everything, maybe a bit too much, and Ribery is included in those plans. Maybe as a false 9, the position Guardiola loves using even though not everyone does the same way Lionel Messi or Francesco Totti did for Roma earlier on, or an attacking midfielder. But Ribery doesn’t seem to mind.
At his best, Ribery begins his work on the left but ends up in the middle. Dortmund have been probably the team that shown the blueprint of stopping him and Bayern’s wing play better than anyone else, not that it helped them last season. But for the rest of Europe, it seems that Ribery’s ability to blow by defenders and create havoc when reaching the penalty box was a bit too much to handle.
Maybe a different position, one that doesn’t involve so much defensive work (which Ribery has done very well in coordination with David Alaba last season) will prolong his career, and actually make him look a lot more dangerous as a finisher than before. Ribery isn’t the kind of player to get 5-6 shots at goal each match. He draws plenty of attention, but usually doesn’t force the game on himself, when he’s having a good day.
The UEFA awards can surprise some. No one saw the Iniesta win coming last season, just like Ribery being the winner this year will be a shocker. But sometimes, success with your team means more to voters than anything else, and by leaving Barcelona behind, beaten and bleeding, Ribery might have done enough as part of a historically good team to claim the award.