Things rarely go exactly to plan in the wonderful world of football, yet last weekend, when Bayern Munich made the long trip to Hoffenheim to continue their unfathomably long undefeated run in the Bundesliga, the Bavarian steam train almost came off the tracks entirely.
On the 75th minute, in a packed Rhein-Neckar Arena, Bayern marched up the pitch to the rough tone of their past excursions into the host's half. Mario Gotze looked flat, Bastian Schweinsteiger jaded and Thomas Muller increasingly ineffective as the seconds ticked by.
A half-arsed attack headed by the ex-Dortmund midfielder came close, but a well-timed tackle by Niklas Sule thwarted any chance of a goal. Then, as if out of nowhere, Philipp Lahm intercepted the ball, where it then bounced to Javi Martinez on the edge of the box.
Martinez then squared it to an open Franck Ribery.
What the Frenchman then did was akin to a Ronaldinho flick or a Lionel Messi shimmy: upon receiving the ball, with his back to goal, he turned and passed to Muller—who couldn’t possibly have been in his peripheral vision—in a single move.
Muller scored and Bayern went on to win, but it was Ribery’s moment of magic that encapsulated that game.
Who created the most chances for Bayern last season? Data courtesy of Squawka.com
It’s these few seconds that prove a perfect microcosm for the relationship between Ribery and Bayern Munich—one that has served both completely and forced Germany and Europe to simply sit back and accept it.
As Bayern rose to the summit of world football last May, it was Schweinsteiger and Lahm who ultimately lifted the famous trophy to the applause of millions around the world, yet it was Ribery and his tireless desire for success who received all the thanks and appreciation from the club's fans.
This ultimately presented itself in the European Player of the Year award that the Frenchman picked up in August to the unanimous applause of his peers. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may be the best players of our generation, but last season Franck Ribery won a lot more than both.
As we can see from the data above, which shows how many chances each Bayern player created in the Bundesliga last season, Ribery's contribution to the side was not only impressive but simply necessary to anything the Bavarian club hoped to achieve.
In fact, Ribery's 86 chances created comes in at around a fifth of the total for the entire squad over the course of the season. A far cry from, say, Wayne Rooney's 49, which equates to one-tenth of Manchester United's, giving a clear indication as to how much these German giants rely on their French star.
It is of course the dichotomy of Ribery’s life on and off the pitch that has truly defined and ultimately underlined his ability as a player in the past few seasons.
Like a spoilt student troubled with the pocket money he’d have to spend, Ribery arrived at Bayern as a man who felt he had nothing left to prove, yet his turning maturity and the modesty that comes with it have transformed him into a player who now walks onto that pitch in Munich like someone who hasn't won a game in his life.
Like all great players, the Frenchman plays his game with desire and talent in constant check and is just as capable of producing a move worthy of any gallery in France or an exemplary tackle for any flat screen in England.
The above charts show the difference between Bayern's win ratio with and without their favoured playmaker from last season, and it's notable how Ribery's contributions were beyond simple numbers.
More often than not, Ribery won games for Bayern Munich last season. It's as simple as that.
His preferable means of delighting the crowd is of course by the manner of which he stalks Bayern's left wing. Now with his partner in crime, full-back David Alaba, the two terrorise like a two-for-one duo from hell and have completely synchronised the method of pass, run, shoot football.
His relationship with Alaba is also a key example of how Ribery has grown. Once renowned for his ability to dive and then subsequently get in to fights, the Frenchman now takes on the role of wise older brother and is often seen with his arm around the developing defender come win, loss or draw.
Once described by none other than Zinedine Zidane as the "Jewel of French football," Franck Ribery has grown into a player who can quite rightfully compare himself to the best in the world. Lionel Messi may have the talent and Cristiano Ronaldo may have the goals, but Franck Ribery has the spirit and determination to win the trophies that fans fondly remember.
As we approach Ballon d'Or season, the tension between all three players is undoubtedly going to rise, and with that the fanaticism that surrounds each athlete to obscene degrees.
Yet the support and general groundswell for Ribery is a testament to what he achieved last season in the company of such football demigods. Footballers are better now than they ever have been, and Franck Ribery is rubbing shoulders with the greatest.
The great Zizou referred to Ribery once as "a Ferrari in the Bayern shirt," and although this comment may have been a simple reference to the winger's dangerous pace, it serves as a perfect definition of the man.
Premium, exclusive and finely tuned, Franck Ribery has all the skills to unlock any defence. Yet what distinguishes him from any other is the engine that drives him on, when other imitators would simply falter.
This is what has brought the player and his club so much success of late and why Franck Ribery and Bayern Munich managed to conquer Germany and Europe with such ease.