Bayern Munich: 'Ticking Time Bomb' Franck Ribery Risks Zidane-Like Downfall

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2016

Bayern Munich's French midfielder Franck Ribery  vies for the ball during the German Super Cup football match final Borussia Dortmund vs FC Bayern Munich in Dortmund on August 14, 2016. / AFP / PATRIK STOLLARZ / RESTRICTIONS: DURING MATCH TIME: DFL RULES TO LIMIT THE ONLINE USAGE TO 15 PICTURES PER MATCH AND FORBID IMAGE SEQUENCES TO SIMULATE VIDEO. == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE == FOR FURTHER QUERIES PLEASE CONTACT DFL DIRECTLY AT + 49 69 650050
        (Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
PATRIK STOLLARZ/Getty Images

As footballers age, there are many paths they can take.

Raul was replaced at Real Madrid and found new purpose at a club of lower profile: Schalke 04. Xabi Alonso suffered a similar fate with the Spanish giants but was fortunate enough to be valued by another big club, Bayern Munich, to the point that he was and still remains a starter.

And others have gone to China, the United States or another less prestigious league in search of one last, big paycheck.

Some have been lucky enough to retire on a high note, like Philipp Lahm ending his Germany career after winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Others, like Michael Ballack, go out in an ugly struggle.

Every player in his 30s reaches a time at which he has to confront his own limits and decide how to end his career. Franck Ribery, at 33 years of age, is at that point. And it doesn't look pretty.

Two competitive matches into Bayern Munich's 2016-17 season, Ribery has twice lashed out at opponents in incidents that could easily have merited red cards.

The first came in the German Super Cup against Borussia Dortmund, in which the Frenchman struck Felix Passlack with his right hand, then swung his left elbow down to his opponent on the side of the head before swinging upward with a glancing left elbow to the face.

Speaking to Kicker (h/t ESPN FC's Stephan Uersfeld), Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said he confronted his team-mate after the incident. But the defender also admitted that there were limits to his influence: "[Ribery] should keep his hands to himself in the future, and I believe that he understands it, but I don't know whether, with his mentality, you can really ... I can't guarantee anything."

Ribery apparently did not heed Lahm's advice in the DFB-Pokal match against Carl Zeiss Jena, during which the Frenchman struck the back of Matthias Kuhne's head as the two vied for the ball.

It would be one thing if the incidents had been isolated events, but the two happening within a matter of days is concerning.

Ribery was also booked during a recent friendly for pushing over Felipe Melo in an off-the-ball incident, prompting coach Carlo Ancelotti to give him a warning. "I told him that I don't like players that don't have good behaviour on the pitch," the trainer told reporters after the match.

None of the recent events have resulted in Ribery being sent off. He was booked for the incidents with Melo and Passlack, with referees apparently taking the approach of leniency with the assumption he would control his temper.

But it still hasn't happened.

Former Bundesliga referee Thorsten Kinhofer is the most recent to weigh in on Ribery's temper, telling Bild (h/t ESPN FC's Uersfeld): "Franck Ribery is a ticking time bomb. Sure, he gets fouled a lot, but he is also easily irritated. The opponents try to make use of that by provoking him. It can also be tactics. The question is whether he's willing to learn at his age. You also have to make the club discharge its duties to appeal to him."

At this stage, it's hard to see Ribery making drastic changes. He always has been a bit hot-headed, with Kicker (in German) recently publishing a compilation of eight instances in which his temper seemed to get the better of him—eye-gouges and flying elbows were included among his offenses.

At the same time, however, three incidents in a matter of weeks is certainly cause for concern as it is a marked increase in the frequency of his emotional outbursts.

A look at recent history may explain just why the 33-year-old has become more and more volatile.

Ribery has spent large portions of the last two seasons injured, and last fall, he watched as Douglas Costa emerged as an obvious replacement for him in the left-winger position. Exactly when the Brazilian will be first-choice is unclear, but it's inevitable: He is eight years younger than his team-mate and will play long after Ribery is gone.

But even so, the Frenchman will do what he can to fight for his spot and maintain as big a role as he can.

The problem with Ribery now is he's expressing his effort and enthusiasm in a negative way. He could play with spirit and gusto instead, giving 100 per cent.

But when he throws an elbow, he puts his participation in jeopardy and risks his team having to play with 10 men, while he gets nothing from it. It's a risk every time, and playing him is one that Ancelotti may soon decide not to take.

Ribery would be wise to take a lesson from his compatriot, Zidane.
Ribery would be wise to take a lesson from his compatriot, Zidane.PATRICK HERTZOG/Getty Images

Ribery has to decide how he wants to end his career: To go out gracefully and be part of his team, or to selfishly vent his frustration on the pitch and potentially harm his team, damaging his legacy. He could take a lesson from compatriot Zinedine Zidane, with whom he played for France.

The 2006 World Cup was Zidane's swan song, and Ribery watched as his fellow countryman gave one of the most impressive and inspiring tournament displays football has seen.

Yet all that was marred in the final moments of his professional football career, just minutes away from penalties in the final, when the captain was sent off for a senseless act of violence against Marco Materazzi. It was an incident that marred Zidane's memory and cost his team a leader and otherwise cool head in the shootout.

Ribery, whose career as a superstar began at the 2006 World Cup, would be wise to take a lesson from Zidane's experience, lest he end his career in a similarly ugly manner: Kicking and punching his way into retirement.

            

Follow Clark on Twitter @Mr_Bundesliga.