The Frenchman is seething at being forced to stay at Bayern Munich and his relationship with coach Louis Van Gaal is already strained.
Forget the mustard deposited in the shoes of team-mates, the water fights and the madcap episode in Dubai when he drove the team bus into a bollard. Bayern Munich’s attacking maestro Franck Ribery no longer seems in the mood for pranks; his usual happy-go-lucky demeanour considerably darkened by the club’s steadfast refusal to allow him to leave for Real Madrid in the close season. It’s a severe shock to the system for any headliner to be told his desires are of no account.
Although Ribery is one of the world’s top performers, can boast two of the game’s most influential agents in Alain Migliaccio and Jean-Pierre Bernes, and had Real and their limitless line of credit on his trail, he and his entourage were never likely to prevail in this particular battle. Not with two years left on his contract and Bayern unwilling to countenance the departure of their most valuable asset.
Bayern just had no reason to do business. Unburdened by debt and having qualified directly for the Champions League, their only thought was to bounce straight back after a highly disappointing 2008-09 season and the last person they wanted to jettison was their totemic creative leader. Bayern minus their French star is nuclear threat downgraded to knuckledusters. He is irreplaceable.
During a summer crammed with reports of big-money offers for Ribery – £43million from Chelsea, £60m from Manchester United, then Real’s £70m – a widely held assumption was that Bayern were stoking a bidding war, hoping to spectacularly cash in towards the end of the transfer window. Not the case. The Bavarians never wanted to sell, and when general manager Uli Hoeness and chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge play hardball, they play for keeps.
Former Bayern stars Michael Ballack and Owen Hargreaves bear witness to how stubborn the club can be. Both midfielders thought they could engineer a move away. Both discovered there was no visible means of escape and were forced to wait a year or more before eventually going.
This is not the first time Ribery has been ordered by a club board to unpack his bags. Back in the summer of 2006 he made it clear he wanted to quit Marseille for Lyon, only to be unceremoniously told by OM president Robert Louis-Dreyfus that he was going nowhere. Over the course of the following season – his last in Provence before a £25m move to Bayern – a palpably unhappy Ribery often went through the motions…and the fear in Munich is that history may repeat itself in the coming months.
End of the affair
Already the signs point to the end of the affair. Ribery has voiced dissent at Bayern coach Louis Van Gaal’s decision to use him centrally rather than on his preferred left wing, and in an interview with L’Equipe he did not hide his antipathy for his new boss.
“It’s the first time in my career that my relationship with a coach is not positive. It doesn’t feel right,” said Ribery. “In training no one is laughing. Everything is too serious.
“I don’t think this club needs a hard line. You must have a balance between fun and seriousness. And the fun is missing in my daily life with my team-mates.“
Hard to see where “Kaiser Franck” and Van Gaal go from here. Free spirits and barked orders tend not to mix. While Rummenigge scoffs at the suggestion that Bayern’s recent £22m purchase of Real Madrid’s Dutch winger Arjen Robben forms part of an agreement to send Ribery in the opposite direction in 2010, such a deferred exit does look probable. Next summer, after three seasons at Bayern, he will be able to buy himself out of his contract with a payment of £3.6m (a year’s salary) and if he does not turn up at the Bernabeu, the end of the world may be nigh.
After failing to win one of their first three Bundesliga games this season, it was fourth time lucky for Bayern, comprehensively outgunning reigning champions Wolfsburg 3-0 at the Allianz Arena. Dynamic and purposeful from back to front, they looked on a mission to ram talk of a crisis down critics’ throats.
But when the post-match laurels were doled out, the only recipient of praise was Robben, who exploded off the bench in the second half to score twice, both goals made by Ribery.
Robben, 25, has a point to prove in southern Germany. He hoped to feature in Galacticos II and still believes he was worthy of a place in the Real line-up this term. However, the Madrid decision makers thought otherwise and now he has to make the best of it. But it’s not as if he has been packed off to the amateur ranks. Bayern provide an important European stage and his world-class pace and dribbling ability should help his new team narrow the gap which exists between them and the creme de la creme in England and Spain.
If he stays fit – admittedly a hard-to-fulfill proviso for much of his career to date – Bayern are on a winner.