If the new European club season seems to be upon us in the blink of an eye, with less than a month having passed since the World Cup final, for some it can’t come soon enough. Despite having won 13 major trophies since arriving at Bayern Munich in 2007, this season is rich in potential meaning for Franck Ribery.
What happens from here on in will define whether 2014 will forever be regarded as the year in which the winger should have been able to set the seal on his status as a true great, or whether it will simply be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Ribery’s quality and importance is not in question—yet.
However, having turned 31 in April, it is clear that time waits for no man, and certainly not at the Allianz Arena, where standards are unimpeachably high.
With Pep Guardiola’s perfectionist streak further piqued by Bayern’s shortcomings in last season’s Champions League (and chief executive Karl-Heinze Rummenigge’s pledge last week that Bayern will never sack the Catalan, per AFP, via Yahoo Sports), there are targets to be met.
It’s not just by Ribery’s impeccable standards of recent years that the last few months have fallen short. This should have been the year to crown it all. After breaking into world consciousness at the 2006 World Cup, Ribery’s behaviour—perceived and actual—at the 2010 edition meant that the summer’s tournament in Brazil was ripe for redemption.
That the chance was denied to him by a back injury will hurt, especially when so many of his Bayern colleagues enjoyed such a successful summer; not just the German contingent, of course, but also his wing counterpart Arjen Robben, who dazzled with the Netherlands before their semi-final exit.
Ribery had worked hard to rebuild his status with the France national team, which was in doubt even a few months before Euro 2012, despite the fact that the revival of his fortunes with his club was well underway.
Now, as focus switches to the Bundesliga campaign, there is no doubt that his past achievements only count for a certain amount, with the marginalised Xherdan Shaqiri also doing well in Brazil.
The sense is that Ribery is acutely aware of that, and he is ready to hit every aim put in his path.
He returned to training ahead of many of his fellow internationals, over three weeks ago, as documented on Bayern’s official YouTube channel here. He has also been getting in trim at the legendary Gleason’s Gym under the Brooklyn Bridge (alumni include Jake LaMotta and Muhammad Ali), while the squad have been on tour in the USA (photo by beIN Sport France).
He has needed to. Last season, Ribery’s record of 18 Bundesliga starts was his lowest number since that nadir of 2009-10, when he started just 10 league matches before missing the Champions League final through suspension—and that’s before we even get to his nightmare in South Africa.
What will decide how long Ribery can go on being effective—and whether he can make a dent for France at Euro 2016, and even in the 2018 World Cup—will be his ability to adapt his game. He cannot go on being a speed demon forever, and Guardiola’s willingness to experiment may see him in a central role at some point.
Clearly, Ribery’s career is already a glittering one, but he needs another big season this time around to maintain his status. He is at the right club to draw it from him.