Created on 31-07-2007 at 00:00 AM
Just four weeks after arriving at Bayern, Franck Ribéry has conquered fans' hearts and affections with a speed rarely seen before in the club's long history of spectacular new signings. The 24-year-old's prodigious skill, but also his positive attitude, have endeared him to everyone connected with the men in red.
"He's a real plus for team spirit. He's the life and soul of everything going on," reports coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. Ribery's sense of humour may or may not be to the liking of all his team-mates: Daniel van Buyten's reaction to finding the tips of his socks cut off while he was in the shower after Monday training has not been recorded.
Not just a joker
"It's what I'm really like," Ribéry insisted at a news conference on Monday. A tendency towards practical joking was part of his weaponry in settling as fast as possible, he explained. "It never fails,“ the player continued, "I'm an open, fun-loving guy.".
The lightning-quick forward boasts another, more contemplative side to his personality, however, as he reflected on the near-collapse of his professional career just a few years ago. "I had my most difficult season when I played in the French third division for Alès,“ he reported.
Rags to riches
He was just 19 when he traveled the 1,000 km south from his Boulogne home to Alés in Languedoc. "I had no money and had to look out for myself. The club ran into financial trouble and we weren't paid." Ribéry moved back in with his parents and spent three months in casual labouring jobs alongside his father, while Alès filed for bankruptcy at the end of the season.
Not five years later, he has completed a €25 million switch from Olympique Marseille to Munich and now rates as the biggest name in the Bundesliga. "It's not how I see myself, and it's not how I want to be seen," he insisted.
Dedication and hard work
"Fame and money haven't changed me. I'm the same as I always was. I like to have a laugh every day, as I'm very conscious there are plenty of people out there who have it nothing like so good.“ For this reason, his focus is solely on his role as a footballer. "I'm here to work hard, do my job, enjoy myself, entertain the fans, and win the league."
Ribery, who converted to Islam at the age of 15 and bears the Moslem name Bilal, is hoping to move with wife Wahiba and daughter Hiziya into his new home in the leafy Munich suburb of Grünwald in early September. He then intends to begin earnestly polishing up his German.
"There's a high standard of living in Munich. The people here are a lot more easy-going than in Marseille. I like the way things are done here, and I feel very much at home." If Franck's first four weeks are any kind of measure, there is little reason to think that is about to change..