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Toni and Ribéry

Superstar double act is reason to celebrate

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There were just under 15 minutes remaining in Sunday’s meeting with VfB Stuttgart when beaming duo Franck Ribéry and Luca Toni began an unusual goal celebration. Ribéry cupped a hand to his ear Toni-style, while Toni mimicked the Ribery gesture of a hand pointing to the heavens. The world briefly turned upside down at the Allianz Arena, although the game as a whole followed a familiar plot, whereby Toni and Ribéry made the difference between a strong VfB and soon-to-be-champions Bayern. “You’ve got to congratulate Bayern on signing these players. We’ve suffered at their hands today,” opined Stuttgart’s Mario Gomez.

Sunday’s Toni and Ribéry show was no one-off. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge named the newly signed pair as “two crucial reasons” why Bayern have all but wrapped up the title with four games to spare. Munich have already won the Cup, and are battling for a place in the UEFA Cup final.

Toni keeps on scoring

”Luca and Franck have roared off the blocks in their first season and given us real quality,” continued Rummenigge, declaring himself “very happy” at laying out record transfer fees for the pair last summer. The chairman is aware of the risk when signing star talent, but excellence comes at a price, he insisted. “We knew we were buying quality, but it’s astounding what they’ve both delivered today,” Rummenigge summarised.

For the 16th time this term, Toni handed his side a 1-0 lead, and he has also provided nine assists leading to an opening goal. He was in the right place at the right time yet again to seize on Matthieu Delpierre’s eighth-minute error and slot home his 35th goal in 42 appearances.

It’s showtime

Toni’s stunning total and the manner in which he cold-bloodedly converts chances is inviting comparisons with one of the club’s true legends. “Just remember the Cup final against Borussia Dortmund, when he instinctively threw out his foot and scored. You think of Gerd Müller at moments like that,” no less a figure than Franz Beckenbauer enthused.

By contrast, Ribéry is beginning to look unique. “That’s when the show really started,” Rummenigge remarked after the Frenchman’s scintillating display as a sub for the last half-hour. Uli Hoeneß was equally impressed: “The third goal was impossible. A normal person wouldn’t even try a shot from that angle. And then the way he did it…unbelievable.”

Off the planet

The general manager was rendered almost speechless by the France star’s 75th-minute strike to make the score 3-1, as Ribery smacked the ball from the left edge of the box into the far-right corner of the net. VfB boss Armin Veh described the goal as “sensational,” Ottmar Hitzfeld called it “a work of genius.” Just over a minute later, Ribéry was leaving two defenders for dead before netting to make the score 4-1.

”Franck is unbelievable, fantastic,” commented Hitzfeld, “he’s scored two terrific goals today.” Ribéry himself waved away suggestions he was from another planet. “I’m not an alien,” he said, adding he was delighted by his goals, “but what really matters is feeling good at Bayern and having the crowd love me. That’s what I need to perform. If my head’s straight, my legs work well too.”

Accepted by the crowd

The dressing room is just as thrilled by the diminutive star’s skill. “I want to say thanks to him,” remarked Christian Lell, “no-one else scores the way he does. Having him in the team is an eye-opener for the players as well as the crowd.” After the final whistle, Bastian Schweinsteiger made sure to guide the Frenchman through a celebration routine much loved by the south terrace faithful. “I gave him a few hints and he soon got it,” Schweinsteiger revealed.

Ribéry himself was pleased at the short on-field lesson. “I’m glad Bastian did that and indicated to the crowd that I’m fully integrated,” he explained. The exchange of goal-celebration gestures was also a matter of solidarity, Ribéry said: “It was a tribute to my friendship with Luca Toni.”