Considering that, as a Fiorentina blog, our only real exposure to Franck Ribery came in the Tom Henning Øvrebø-accursed Champions League tie in 2010, which isn’t exactly a useful and unbiased thing—I still can’t think about that tie for more than about 3.8 seconds without wanting to throw plates at the wall or something.
We were lucky enough, though, to track down Phillip Quinn, editor at Bavarian Football Works and a funny, smart, and thoughtful guy. Reproduced below is our brief conversation about Ribery’s time at Bayern Munich, what kind of player he is at this stage of his career, and what the Viola can expect from him as he slots into a young side.
Viola Nation: How much does Ribery have left in the tank? He’s obviously one of the best players of his generation, but 36 is old for a professional athlete, especially one with such an injury history. He only played 90 minutes in the league twice last year; was that more a function of the wealth of talent Niko Kovac has at his disposal, or was it because his legs are aging?
Phillip Quinn: So, Franck Ribery is one of my favorite players ever. His skill... His feistiness... His heart... Those are always things that I never once questioned about him. However, over the last couple of years, the one thing that eventually comes after most players started coming for him: Time.
It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where Ribery, at this point in his career, can be a weekly 90 minute player for Fiorentina, even if Serie A is played at a slower place at times than the Bundesliga. His abilities, while in decline, are still there in moments of brilliance as he showed in the final Bundesliga Matchday when he scored an absolute spectacular goal to help Bayern clinch the title.
If you’re looking for an everyday, bonafide star, Ribery’s best days are behind him. If you’re looking for a player who can be a rotational starter along with being an electric substitute, I think he can still do the business. That is, if he can stay healthy.
VN: We’ve all heard the stories about Ribery’s legal issues and clashes with the press. Did he seem like a distraction last year in Bavaria? Fiorentina have, on average, one of the youngest squads in Europe; were you in the unenviable position of supporting the Viola, would you worry that Ribery would be a distraction?
PQ: In recent years, Ribery was only a distraction if you wanted things reported in the press to distract you. There never really was anything on the field that would lead you to believe there were any issues. His teammates always spoke highly of him, and while I’m sure he wanted to play more than he did over the last two seasons, he never went to the papers and whined.
VN: One of the biggest things we’ve heard about Ribery is that, besides his obvious talent on the pitch, he has a champion’s mindset. Is that the kind of thing you think he could impart to a bunch of young players who haven’t won diddly? Do you think he’ll be a mentor to relative kids like Federico Chiesa and Riccardo Sottil?
PQ: Ribery won 20+ trophies (ranging from the UEFA Champions League to the DFB LigaPokal) during his time with Bayern, so it’s hard to deny a “champion’s mindset”. He’s always had a great rapport with younger players over the years, most notably David Alaba. In recent years, Ribery clearly grew close with Renato Sanches, as the young Portuguese midfielder struggled in Munich.
I think that side of Ribery does exist, but there probably needs to be some “want to” from the younger players as well. He has a lot of experience and wisdom to impart at this stage in his career.
VN: What do you think is a reasonable expectation from Ribery this year in terms of output? How many games (or games missed), how many goals and assists, how many controversies stirred up?
PQ: The biggest thing for Ribery is always his health. He’s always remained in great shape, but he was prone to picking up a niggling injury that would persist for weeks. If he can stay healthy and gets regular playing time, I think it’s fair to expect anywhere between 8-15 goals+assists for him this season. If you’re relying on him to carry a team in one of Europe’s big leagues, I’m afraid he can’t do that any longer.
VN: Is there anything else about Ribery that you think Fiorentina fans should know?
PQ: With Ribery, you’re getting a player who is going to go out onto the field, for however long he’s playing, and give it his all. He’s going to score some goals. He’ll pick up some assists. Hell, there will probably be some light pushing and shoving opposition players.
Despite his age and the vast sums of money and trophies that he’s collected over the years, Ribery clearly still feels that he has something to prove. He could’ve settled for a contract in Asia or North America, but he’s not. He’s going to one of Europe’s top leagues. He’s going to give it his all.
Again, a massive danke to Phillip for the wisdom; feel like we’ve got a much better idea of what to expect from Franck Ribery now than we had before this, and that ain’t nothing.