When the signing of Franck Ribéry was announced by Fiorentina in August of last year, it was dismissed by some as just a marketing move. This was mainly put forward by the outspoken Torino owner Urbano Cairo, who claimed they could have signed the French star but he just wasn’t the type of player he was looking for to strengthen his squad. Seeing the fans at the Franchi to welcome Franck to the club, one couldn’t but help remember the day another signing from Bayern, Mario Gómez, was also greeted by a large crowd at the stadium, and we all know that didn’t quite work out the way we had hoped. Surely this was going to be different though, Franck Ribéry being a true legend of the game.
Of course by now we all know just what a success Franck has been, and also how much he was missed while out injured last season. This was a guy who could have left Europe, gone to China, Qatar, maybe the MLS, anywhere that he would have been guaranteed the big end of career pay cheque. He was a free agent, but he came to a club like Fiorentina that had just managed to survive in Serie A the previous season. A club with ambitious new owners though, who were keen to show the fans just what they were capable of.
While only scoring 3 goals last season, his importance to the team was there for all to see. Who could forget the way he hunted down and won the ball back from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo with a perfectly timed tackle? With this one act he won over the Fiorentina fans completely, as he showed the commitment he still had and let any doubters know that he wasn’t just here to quietly see out his career. It certainly didn’t hurt that it happened against our biggest rivals either. Another standout moment from last season was his goal at the San Siro against AC Milan, leaving the rest of the top Serie A clubs wondering just how they had managed to let a signing like this get away.
While the Covid19 enforced lockdown was definitely not welcomed by anyone, it did allow Fiorentina to have Ribéry back for the end of the season. This was not without a little controversy, when in July after a break in at his rented home just outside of Florence, his initial outburst wasn’t taken too kindly by some supporters, especially those living in the city itself. All was soon forgiven and forgotten though, finally seen as an understandable reaction from a man with a family to protect. His impact wasn’t just on the pitch, he also became a leader in the dressing room and he quickly formed a very close relationship with new manager Iachini, after he came in for Montella in December.
So as the new season kicked off I was very interested to see just what kind of form Ribéry would be in after the shorter than usual break. I have to admit, after the first game I was a little concerned. Wearing the captains armband, he put in a discreet display, maybe sometimes we just expect too much of Franck. He did however almost let Torino in for what would have been the opening goal of the game with a very sloppily taken free kick. With Fiorentina getting off to a winning start, thankfully that was soon forgotten about. After the first half against Inter though, I really was starting to worry, where was the spark, the error free passing? The way in which the half ended certainly didn’t help his cause, with Ribéry again uncharacteristically giving the ball away cheaply, allowing Inter to break and equalize just before the break. Admittedly, he had also picked up a knock in that opening half, but he just didn’t seem to be his usual, almost perfect self. In fact, if he hadn’t re-emerged after the interval, I probably wouldn’t have been too surprised, or to be perfectly honest, disappointed. In the second half however, I was soon begging forgiveness from Franck. His passing, those assists! The move for Castrovilli’s equalizer was just beautiful to watch and re-watch, as he held the ball up from Gaetano’s original pass, waiting for his run into the box to collect the ball again and send it past Handanovic. He then made that sublime pass to allow Chiesa put Fiorentina back in front. One of those moves that few other players would even see or attempt. I don’t really want to dwell on that miss by Vlahović, but it was only thanks to Ribéry that he found himself with so much space, Franck attracting four Inter players around him when he entered the box before playing the perfect ball to the unmarked Serbian striker.
We all know what happened after he left the pitch on Saturday night, Inter finding two late goals to steal the win. We also witnessed some Inter fans stand to applaud him as he left the field, emphasizing just what an impact he had made in the second half.
With all the talk this week about whether or not Chiesa will actually leave, one wonders if he has looked to Franck for advise, although in Federico’s case it’s his father Enrico who really pulls the strings. Ribéry though, is definitely a player that this young team need and look to for guidance and support. Players like Castrovilli can surely only improve playing alongside someone with his experience and talent. Franck will be 38 next April, but we can only hope that he keeps going for as long as possible. Just look at Zlatan Ibrahimović, he’ll be 39 in just a few days and shows no sign of stopping yet. Maybe when Ribéry eventually does decide to end his playing career, Rocco Commisso can persuade him to stay at the club in some other role. He definitely looks like management material to me, and although he did spend the bulk of his career at Bayern, he does seem to have a genuine affection for Fiorentina.
So the next time Franck has a dodgy first half, a bad start to a game, I will make sure to remind myself of just how he turned on the style after the break at the San Siro. One thing I am sure of, there are many more great memories waiting to be made by Franck Ribéry wearing the Fiorentina colours!