Created on 13-06-2007 at 00:00 AM
Former World player of the year Zinedine Zidane says he is "a jewel of French football," while top striker Thierry Henry describes him as "a nightmare for any defender": the best players in the globe are unstinting in their praise for Franck Ribery's qualities. The 24-year-old midfielder will pull on a Bayern shirt as of next season, but who exactly is the man who prompted Bayern to smash their previous transfer record?
Ribéry's story is in fact a classic rags-to-riches tale. Born on 1 April 1983 in the northern French coastal town of Boulogne, he grew up in humble surroundings and a difficult social environment. Unemployment ran at some 60 percent in his home suburb. Then, just before his third birthday, Franck was involved in a car crash which would affect him for the rest of his life. He was thrown through the front windscreen, and will forever bear a scar down the right side of his face and forehead.
From Academy to building site
Franck now regards the horrendous accident as a source of strength and motivation. "I was a fighter," Ribéry recalls. His footballing talent was spotted at an early stage and he was accepted into the OSC Lille Academy at the age of 13, but he fled back to his parents after struggling with the academic side of the program.
He initially rejoined his home town club before a spell in the lower divisions with Olympique Alès. However, money was always tight for the Ribéry family, and Franck spent a period at his father's side on a building site. "That taught me a lot," the player remembers. Shortly afterwards, he joined third division Stade Brest, "and that's where I started to put in serious work."
Galatasaray fans salute FerraRibery
After marrying his Algerian wife Wahiba, Franck converted to Islam. "Changing religion had become inevitable for me. Islam has helped me find inner peace in certain difficult situations," he has explained. Following a successful year in Brest, his career took him to FC Metz in the French first division, where he was named Ligue 1 Player of the Month in August 2004.
Yet again, his career was not destined to run smoothly. Following an incident in a nightclub, the Metz club President withdrew an increased salary offer and Ribéry made a winter switch to Galatasaray in Turkey. He immediately became a crowd favourite, where the Istanbul faithful christened him "FerraRibery" because of his blistering pace. He contributed a goal and two assists as Gala won the Turkish Cup in 2005, still the only trophy in Franck's career to date.
World Cup provides breakthrough
But after failing to receive wages from Galatasaray for more than three months, he returned to France on a free transfer and joined Olympique Marseille. His star continued to rise, as his former Metz coach Jean Fernandez helped him emerge as one of the key players at the Mediterranean outfit.
A sparkling 2005-6 campaign took him to the fringes of the France squad and a first senior cap shortly before the World Cup. The timing was perfect: Franck had made his move just in time to feature at the tournament in Germany, where he caught the eye of the world with a string of scintillating displays. Soon, the likes of Real Madrid, Arsenal, Olympique Lyon and indeed Bayern were taking an interest. "There's no-one in the world who can accelerate like him with the ball at his feet," Henry declared.
Bayern's dogged pursuit
Marseille President Pape Diouf refused to listen to offers last summer, but told the player he could move on at the end of the season under certain conditions. Bayern never dropped their pursuit and persuaded Franck that his future lay at the Säbener Strasse.
"I'm at home on the wings, left or right, but I happily try and dribble through the opposing defence. I love one-on-one situations," the player explained at his unveiling in Munich. These are the attributes Bayern trust will restore success to the club.
"Bienvenue á Munich, Franck, et bonne chance!"