France's Ribery to end on a high in Brazil?
PARIS -- France travel to Brazil next month looking to the likes of Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery for inspiration as they aim to better the pitiful showing managed in South Africa four years ago. But history should be telling Didier Deschamps not to expect too much from the 31-year-old and -- unless he can rediscover his 2013 form that saw him excel for the German champions -- Brazil could serve as Ribery's international swansong.
Since he emerged on the international scene in 2006 at the age of 23, the former Olympique de Marseille player has had to bear the burden of being seen as the heir to Zinedine Zidane's throne with Les Bleus. Considered one of the best French players of his generation and labelled "the jewel of French football" -- by none other than Zidane himself -- Ribery has struggled to live up to such great expectations along with a number of other players branded the "new Zizou."
Brazil is Ribery's last chance to prove that France's eternal No. 10 was not wrong for singling him out for praise back in 2006 when he first broke in to Raymond Domenech's ageing World Cup squad in Germany.
"This will be my last World Cup," declared Ribery to French radio station RTL earlier this week. "We have to go to Brazil to achieve something, to try to win the World Cup, quite simply."
It is an ambitious aim, to say the least, but for the talented wide man there is a real sense that it is now or never with the French.
As with a number of other players -- particularly the likes of Real Madrid's Karim Benzema -- Ribery has rarely replicated his club form at international level. Scintillating for Bayern last year as they swept to an unprecedented Treble before being crowned world champions with victory in the FIFA Club World Cup, Ribery struggled to impose himself with Les Tricolores as they were forced to settle for second place in qualifying Group I.
It came down to a playoff against Ukraine for a place at this summer's tournament. The Bayern man failed to step up in either game -- particularly the first leg in Kiev where he barely touched the ball over the entire 90 minutes -- and it was left to Benzema and unlikely hero Mamadou Sakho to step up and make the difference in the return match at Stade de France.
This is something that has become all too common with Ribery for France; he just does not influence the games in the way that he is expected to.
With 10 World Cup appearances to his name, he is the most experienced player at this level in Deschamps' squad and has played more games at the tournament than the rest of the group put together. Yet Ribery has only scored once for France at a major international tournament -- the equaliser in France's 3-1 win over Spain in the last 16 of the 2006 tournament in Germany -- and he has played in one more World Cup and two European Championships since France reached the final in Berlin eight years ago.
Ribery's decline in form since the start of 2014 is a concern for the French -- although it will not affect his status as an indispensable member of the squad for now -- and his admission that he does not plan to be in Russia for 2018 also puts him in a vulnerable position. The France No. 7 is now playing for international future, as any under-performance will almost certainly see him forgotten about as Deschamps starts to plan for the 2016 European Championship on home soil.
If Ribery cannot raise his game for Les Bleus in Brazil -- despite having been at his peak less than six months ago at club level -- this summer's South American sojourn could well be the last time he is seen in the national team jersey.
A reinvigorated Benzema appears to be the new talisman of the side, particularly because of the unwavering faith shown in him by Deschamps while enduring a miserable run of 1,224 minutes without an international goal. Ribery needs to stamp his authority on this French side -- in their new-look 4-3-3 formation -- in the same way that he has for Bayern in recent years if he is to continue being considered an integral part of the squad.
With the likes of Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann coming through and a number of other potential wide options also starting to blossom, it is not as if Deschamps has limited options in Brazil and heading towards 2016. This summer is Ribery's final chance to demonstrate his true importance to his country; otherwise he runs the risk of his numerous international failures perennially detracting from his successes enjoyed at club level.