Franck Ribery: It’s a title I’ve dreamt of for a long time and which I’ve often thought about. I’ve been playing at a high level for two years and last season especially I played very, very well and won some big trophies.
Why shouldn’t it happen? If, like me, you come from nowhere, from a difficult quarter of Boulogne, a little town which hardly anyone knows; if you start out as a young boy playing on hard-surface pitches against kids who are much bigger than you; and if you follow an untypical career path, with many setbacks, it’s unbelievable to end up in the final vote for the best player in Europe. But, at the same time, I’ve never once let up. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved up to now.
Have you always felt that it’s been more difficult for you than it has for other players?
There are always setbacks. It’s been that way since my childhood. It was often very difficult. But with my will and commitment, I’ve always managed to turn the page.
I’ve never given up. And with this attitude, you always get somewhere in the end. Even now, at the age of 30, I still want to win every game. I haven’t changed. Basically, I’m still the same Franck Ribery who once dreamt of big football occasions in Boulogne.
So this determination to battle on and fight back after suffering disappointment has been present in you from an early age?
Yes, but experience and all the different situations I’ve gone through have played a part in this too. In the meantime, people have come to understand that whatever happens, I can’t be knocked down. What are really important to me are the relationships I have here in Munich. The club are satisfied with me, the fans like me. I get on really well with my team-mates. My family is happy. That’s what counts above everything.
To whom do you owe your attitude?
My father helped me a lot. He always stood behind me. That said, with my determination, I think I would still have made it on my own. I grew up on the street. I worked on earning the respect of others all on my own. That was the only way to do it. But what was important was the support of my dad in the background. He had a strong character and would not let things get the better of him. He had to work hard all his life. Even when it was sometimes difficult, he made sure we never lacked anything. We always had enough to eat. He taught me that children are the most important thing and that has done me good. I’m very happy all has turned out well.
Do you feel you have taken revenge on those who have severely criticised you in the past?
Listen, I’m a father. I’m 30 years old. For me, these things aren’t important. Naturally, I’m proud to have got so far. I’m pleased, but it has nothing to do with feelings of revenge. Absolutely not. My critics can attack me if they want. It makes no difference to me.
The improvement in your game was considerable last season…
Yes, I became even better in lots of small ways. Obviously, I’m now very experienced and this continues to help me. Jupp Heynckes wanted us to be more organised, that we all track back to do our share of defensive work, which meant that when we won the ball, I had a lot of room in front of me to work in.
How big was the contribution of the then-Bayern coach Heynckes to your great season?
Very big. He played an enormous part in our success. With him, I felt good, enjoying myself both in training and matches.
Why is that so important?
The relationship with the coach is simply vital for me. Contact with him and the players gave me all the love of life and warmth I needed to be good. Only details, but for me, very important.
Have the titles of last season motivated you even more?
I’ve started the new season with an amazing desire. We’ve a new coach and I’m very pleased to have established a good relationship with Pep Guardiola. This is very important for me. I’ve had lots of chats with him. I’ve got to know him and he’s discovered me. I made it clear to him that I don’t always need extensive conversations. Little things are more important to me: a hello, a slap on the back, an observation, some praise. It makes me confident and only when I have that can I give my best.
Do you need to feel wanted by a coach when you are playing for him?
I don’t need to feel important, but what I do need is a relationship. I want to have proper communication, have fun and laugh. There has to be an absolute bond of mutual trust. I must have the feeling that I can count on him, and in turn I want to show him that he can rely on me. If this is the case, I’m ready to go.
Beneath the hard shell, do you have a soft side?
I am sensitive, I admit it. I want to win, of course, but above all, I have a big heart. I always want to give. I always want others to profit from my good fortune. I’m thinking of those who are down on their luck, who don’t have my family or friends. I get pleasure from helping out. It’s better to give than receive. That’s how I am on the pitch. I prefer to make goals than score them. When I set up a team-mate for a goal and see him celebrate, I’m unbelievably happy. Maybe that’s a fault because perhaps one should always look to score oneself. But there is nothing that I can do about it. That is my game.
What of this season’s Bayern squad?
It’s a good group. There’s a wonderful atmosphere. We are very motivated to have another great season.
Mario Gomez and Luiz Gustavo have moved on because they wanted to play more. In the run-up to a World Cup, is it stressful for national-team players to have to sit on the bench?
No. I think we players are intelligent enough. Why should we do things differently when it’s going so well? Naturally, it’s not easy for the coach. Every week he has to decide who makes the starting XI. We have to do our best to all stand as one, to make sure that everyone feels part of the team and has fun.
What is more important: playing great football or winning trophies?
The game in itself is important. If you win and don’t enjoy it, it’s not good. Basically fans have to go home after our games with a smile on their faces. I think our coach has the same view. There should be no doubt about it.
Fans seem to enjoy the way that you play…
It’s good to know that I make it fun for others. It gives me even more desire. I want people to be thrilled watching me. You can’t play football forever. My hope is for people to remember me later on. I want to leave my mark.
Have you noticed that your opponents treat you with more respect these days?
Sure, I feel respected, but I also respect every one of my opponents. Sometimes I notice that they are a little nervous and naturally I look to take advantage of it.
And their rough methods of stopping you…
That’s become a little less frequent. But I do understand that opponents will try to use all possible means to win a game. Many are really motivated when facing me and want to show it to the world. That’s part of the game.
Sometimes you can get carried away, too. Why do you think that is?
Look, I’m not a nasty piece of work. In these instances, I’m not pleased with myself as I don’t really want to harm anyone. But sometimes so many things are going on that I can hardly control myself. I try to defend myself, but I don’t intend to be vicious. It’s only a form of protection. Actually I’m harmless. I want to have fun, but sometimes the fouls and the provocation are too much. I’m an impulsive sort and I can react. The way I am has played a big part in my career. I will not put up with any sort of ill treatment, but naturally I try to stay within certain boundaries.
Interview by Mounir Zitouni /ESM