Ribery’s uniquely beguiling talent
The question of whether such-and-such a player is the world’s best tends to generate more heat than light, and a great many superlatives directed at Cristiano Ronaldo.
So, let me phrase this as carefully as I can: Just at the moment, is Franck Ribery the most influential player in Europe?
Ribery’s return to fitness, after his ankle ligament injury at Euro 2008, has coincided with Bayern Munich’s return to form, and of course, it’s no coincidence at all.
Juergen Klinsmann found his first couple of months as Bayern coach very difficult, as teams discovered they no longer had to treat the Ribery-less champions with quite such respect.
The Frenchman returned to the team with a tentative 45-minute run-out in a 1-0 defeat in Hanover. He looked a little more comfortable in the subsequent 3-3 draw with Bochum and sparked a memorable comeback with his first goal against Wolfsburg on Oct. 25.
His form has been improving ever since and he made it four goals in four games with a jaw-dropping winner in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Schalke.
He contributed far more than just another goal, though, as his beguiling balance and control threatened danger every time he took the ball forward, and at times made fools of Schalke defenders.
With Ribery in this form, Bayern are a team transformed. Rivals can’t afford to press too far forward against them for fear of being slaughtered on the counter-attack. It makes Bayern’s defence look much more comfortable (as much as they can be in front of a goalkeeper who does not catch crosses).
There may be more gifted players than Ribery, and, yes, Ronaldo springs to mind, but I’m not sure there’s a single player who makes so much difference to a league title race.
Messi in Spain? Certainly influential, but you get the feeling Barcelona could survive pretty well without him. Benzema at Lyon? Perhaps. But is there anyone else head and shoulders above the rest of their league? As always, let us know in the comments.