It’s pretty rare for a top flight team to seriously consider bringing back a 38-year-old winger, but that’s where we are with Fiorentina and Franck Ribery. The French legend is out of contract this summer and reportedly wanted to stay in Florence, but Sky Sport claims the Viola have decided not to bring him back.
The former Bayern Munich star spent two years in Florence, but it’s tough to quantify how successful he was. Generally used as a striker, he scored only 5 goals across 51 appearances. His tendency to drop very deep to collect the ball also left Dušan Vlahović completely isolated up front and hamstrung the Viola attack, and that’s not taking into account Ribery’s need to put his foot on the ball, slow things down, and operate at the center of a whirl of activity as his teammates all burst forward around him. Too, there’s the availability issue: he missed at least 29 games over 2 years with injuries and suspensions. You can’t rely on a player who missed more than a third of his team’s matches.
That said, he’s doubtless still full of quality. He laid on 6 assists this past year (all from open play) and was clearly Fiorentina’s most creative player by miles. He can still skip past defenders (11th most successful dribbles per 90 in Serie A), although he was also dispossessed more than any other player in the league on a per 90 basis. He’s also shown that his legs aren’t as shot as advertised, as he worked hard in defense—3rd most pressures per 90 on the roster—although he visibly faded after the hour mark in most contests.
Sky claims that he wants to stay in Italy; if, as was rumored earlier this summer, he’s willing to take a lesser paycheck and a lesser role, there’s certainly still plenty of value that a smart team could squeeze out of him as a trequartista. You’d think he’d be a perfect option to back up Roberto Soriano at Bologna, who have a wealth of pacy young attackers, but anyone from Lazio to Monza could have a go at him.
If nothing else, it’s a vote of confidence in several of the players currently on the roster. Losing Ribery means that Gaetano Castrovilli may have to take on a much larger creative burden rather than deferring as often, while Nicolás González and Riccardo Sottil are now locked in as the starting wingers.
It’s certainly the smartest move in the long term for a club that seems to be committing to youth—Ribery, Cáceres, and Callejón out while González and Sottil return—but could lead to short-term growing pains as the players learn to take more responsibility rather than just hit it to the old wizard and hope he does something cool. We wish him the best in his next adventure and we thank him for everything, but we aren’t necessarily sorry to see him go.