Ribery remains Bayern's trump card
There was a time when turning out for Bayern Munich was considered a great honour for a top player, yet the change of order on Europe's top table means Germany's one true super-club no longer has the status it once commanded.
Take Franck Ribery, Bayern's current star turn and their trump card in the Champions League this season. While the four-time European champions have provided him with a fine platform to confirm his reputation as one of the finest wingers in the game, the speculation surrounding his future refuses to go away and it seems inevitable that he be plying his trade in England or Spain sooner rather than later.
Rumours linking the Frenchman with a move to the Premier League giants continually fill the newspapers and even though Ribery insists he is content at Bayern, the Bundesliga's outstanding talent admits Germany may not be the final destination on his road to the top.
"There is always a lot of speculation around me and in lots of ways, this is a positive sign," begins Ribery. "Clubs have already shown an interest and some have made solid offers, but money isn't everything and I'm in no hurry to move from Munich.
"All players dream of playing for massive clubs like Real Madrid, Barca, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, but I don't ask for much in life. If I put a smile on the fans faces, I'm happy. If I've done my bit to bring about victory, I'm totally satisfied. All you can ask is to play for a club whose fans love you, where you are happy to give something back and I have found this in Munich. I'm not a complicated person or player.
"However, I've never made any secret of my desire to play in England or Spain one day. These are league where there's high-grade football and the atmosphere in the grounds gives you goose bumps as soon as you come out of the tunnel. I need a passionate environment, somewhere where I can express myself, somewhere with a little craziness.
"Despite this, I have a contract with Bayern until 2011 and intend to honour it. What is important is I have the right feeling at a club and I have it in Munich. They are already are one of the biggest names in world football and if I ever did leave, it would be hard to find a better club.
"Bayern are a winning machine and I have a great rapport with the fans here, my team mates and the management. Everyone has gone out of the way to make me feel at home since I arrived and they have given me a platform to develop as a top footballer. I'll always be grateful for that and hope to repay them with more trophies."
They are hardly the words of a footballer entirely committed to the Bayern cause and Ribery admits he came close to joining Arsene Wenger at Arsenal before he made the switch from Marseille to Bayern Munich in a record busting €25m deal in 2007.
"Arsenal were in the running for a time," he confirms. "Arsene Wenger appreciated me as I was his sort of player. He wanted me in his team and I was tempted, but Arsenal stepped aside when they found out the price Marseille wanted and the decision was made for me to join Bayern Munich.
It's a little curious that Jurgen Klinsmann's side find themselves in a more encouraging position in the Champions League than they do back home in a Bundesliga title race Bayern have become used to winning with a degree of comfort down the years.
An indifferent record away from home and a tendency to allow a few too many goals to fly past them on home soil has left the 21-time German champions struggling to live up to their billing for much of their domestic campaign, so maybe the Champions League offers all at Bayern an unlikely route into the record books.
Their 5-0 demolition of Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their last 16 tie was a real statement of intent from Klinsmann's free-flowing side on a night when Ribery started the rout with the opening goal moments before half-time. Despite this emphatic success, their talisman suggests hopes of Champions League glory may be a little premature for Bayern.
"Even though we could be a match for anyone over two legs, there are a lot of top sides in the Champions League and it will be tough," he continues, "While defending our Bundesliga title is a must, the European prize is the one close to my heart and I would view us as a good outside bet. We might not have the huge squads of a Manchester United, Chelsea or Barca, but we have more than enough quality and determination to spring a surprise."
Many viewed Ribery's recent criticism of Klinsmann's side as proof that he was trying to engineer a route away from the club in the summer, but he insists the comments that captured big headlines in Germany were blown out of proportion.
"I said we probably could use two or three really world-class players to make us competitive in Europe for the long-term and I don't think I was coming out with something the directors didn't know already," he concludes. "Some of the media tried to make it sound as if I wanted to cause trouble in the dressing room, but that's not my style. I was only giving my opinion on how to take us forward.
"It has been a frustrating season in many ways. At times because we've been losing games when we haven't deserved to and there can be nothing worse than this. You can accept it when the better side beats you, but we have lost when we've had all the possession and chances.
"We have not been taking our chances. Last season we'd make five and score from three of them, yet it has been different this time. We need too many chances and aren't clinical enough. We are also paying the price for being an attack-minded team as it leaves us open at times. I think we have to be more compact and have to defend from the front. Still, we have improved a lot already and the result in Lisbon proved this."
Only a fool writes off mighty Bayern Munich when they get into the business end of the Champions League and so long as Ribery remains fit and healthy for the next couple of months, they could just pull off an unlikely triumph.