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Is Franck Ribery the Most Important Player at Bayern Munich?

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Franck Ribery of Bayern Muenchen celebrates with the trophy after victory in the UEFA Champions League final match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2013 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
Alex Grimm/Getty Images
Stefan BienkowskiFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2013

Franck Ribery is no poster boy. In fact with the unfortunate scarring that runs down the right side of his face you could argue that he's anything but a model. Yet even when we take aesthetics out of it, the hunched-over, gloomy Frenchman doesn't exactly draw cameras to himself.

Even on the pitch.

Last month in the heart of London, it was Arjen Robben who stole all the front-page headlines, as the sport editions bulged with Bastian Schweinsteiger or Thomas Muller featured profiles. All the while poor Franck didn't get a word of praise.

That in itself is nothing new. For within the Bavarian spotlight of Bayern Munich, Franck Ribery simply doesn't compare to the local heroes of Schweinsteiger, Muller or even Toni Kroos. Yet once we get away from the spotlight and onto the pitch, the Frenchman truly comes into his own.

Ironically, the Champions League final was perhaps the best illustration of his work for the Munich side. For within the success of Arjen Robben’s concluding goal lies a simple back-heel pass from Frank Ribery that aligns perfectly with the oncoming Dutchman: a simple and effective move that became a crucial assist.

Although not particularly well-known as a wide playmaker, Ribery topped Bayern Munich’s assist chart for the season with 16 in all competitions, with Thomas Muller and Philipp Lahm both sitting on 11. While Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger—the regarded imagination in this well-oiled machine— finished the season with eight and three respectively.

Of course, no great player relies on just one aspect of his game, and in Franck Ribery’s case he’s also quite the goalscorer too. In fact, with 11 goals this season Ribery not only becomes one of the few players at Bayern to reach double figures in both aspects, but in the whole of Europe.

In WhoScored's player statistics over the course of the 2012/13 European season, Franck Ribery finished second only to Lionel Messi in the offensive stats, while actually finishing above Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid due to his higher average rating. Yet as we can see, there’s a strong cut-off between the top three and the rest in terms of overall contribution.

Even when we include more players, its notable just how few and far between players with double figures in both goals scored and assists truly are.

Other aspects of Ribery’s game which are clearly notable when compared to his counterparts across the continent are his successful dribbles per game (4.5) and key passes per game (3.2), which seem to be in a league of their own.

Even when we reduce the sample size to just that of his Bayern squad—heralded as the greatest in Europe at the moment—the Frenchman is still significantly more effective in such aspects than his team mates.

When it comes to key passes, Ribery’s closest competitor is Toni Kroos at 2.8, but then there’s a real drop-off with Thomas Muller at 2.0 and then Arjen Robben at 1.8. Similarly, no one is anywhere near the winger’s dribbling stats, with the aforementioned Dutch winger next in the chasing pack with two dribbles per game—not even half that of his thriving colleague.

Within the company of such stats, the mind begins to paint a rather blunt picture of Franck Ribery’s contributions to Bayern Munich over the course of the season. Not that of a thundering goalscorer or Hollywood playmaker, but an all-encompassing forward with more strings to his bow than almost any other in Europe.

As perhaps the most integral cog to this Bavarian powerhouse, it should come as no surprise that another aspect of the game that Ribery truly thrives in is the collection of man of the match awards. A token recognition for any player of being the best in any given game.

This season at Bayern Munich, the Frenchman won such an award 12 times, four more than second-placed Thomas Muller and the third highest for any individual player across the top five European leagues, behind only Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Of course, it would seem ridiculous to consider Franck Ribery as anything but one of the best players in the world. However, the past two seasons, in which he’s scored 28 goals and created 49 assists, have been the only in which he hasn't suffered a long term injury.

In the 2009/10 season the Frenchman missed out on 19 games of the full season, while a torn ankle ligament injury the following year meant he missed out on a further 13 in the 2010/11 campaign. If Ribery is only now beginning to challenge the best players in the world, it’s because he’s finally gotten over the numerous injuries that plagued him in the past.

Yet with his fitness now no longer an issue, new coach Pep Guardiola will look upon his figures from last season and look favourably upon Franck Ribery. For beneath the hunched-over posture and that sour look is Bayern Munich’s most important player. 

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