Soccer

Should Ribery get Ballon d'Or?

Franck Ribery has settled down in the Bavarian capital so well that he looks right at home even in the ridiculous lederhosen he and his Bayern Munich teammates don for the annual junket at the Oktoberfest.

If Ribery stays in Munich until his contract expires in 2017, he would have spent a decade and his best playing years with the club. He will be 34 by then and Ribery has said he would have nothing against letting his career run out in Munich.

Ribery has helped Bayern win every major trophy and he is arguably the key player in Pep Guardiola's squad. The best player in the best team in the world. But is Ribery good enough to take this year's Ballon d'Or? Better than Lionel Messi? Better than Cristiano Ronaldo? Or for that matter, Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

Based on recent success, Ribery wins the argument. UEFA already made him the European player of the year in August. Messi, winner of the last four Ballon d'Or awards, was injured late in last season's and could not prevent Barcelona being ripped apart by Bayern in the semifinals of the Champions League. Ronaldo could not lead Real Madrid to the biggest title either.

Instead, Bayern completed a sweep never before accomplished by a German team. It captured the Champions League, the Bundesliga and the German Cup. In addition, Ribery set a Bundesliga record of playing in 39 straight games without defeat on Saturday.

Ribery, although a winger, is not a natural scorer with the consistency of Messi or Ronaldo — he had 11 goals for Bayern last season and 23 assists, while also adding five goals for France. But his overall presence on the field has become a lot more visible since Ribery started working more for the team. He works hard and runs back to help out his defenders, something that was not a given a few season ago.

Ribery likes the ball, dribbles and shoots well and his sudden accelerations and changes of pace are his trademark moves. He is not as spectacular as Messi, Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic. His reluctance to stick with tactical discipline led to a falling out with previous coach Louis van Gaal and Ribery did not become the player he is now until Jupp Heynckes replaced the Dutchman.

Ribery has matured since his early days in Bayern, when his childish pranks — tying together the shoelaces of his teammates, smearing toothpaste on door handles and adding vinegar to tea — got more newspaper space than his exploits on the field.

There have been other issues as well. The club stood by Ribery when he was involved in a 2010 sex scandal surrounding an underage prostitute, while his popularity in France also took a huge blow that year for his role in Les Bleus' implosion at the World Cup in South Africa.

But since then, Ribery has kept his volatile character and aggression mostly in check, although it still surfaces occasionally in some ill-tempered harsh tackling. He missed the 2011 Champions League final after earning a needless red card in the previous round and Bayern lost 2-0 to Inter.

He then punched teammate Arjen Robben in a locker-room dispute at halftime of Bayern's Champions League win over Real Madrid in 2012. The bust-up delayed Robben's decision to extend his contract with Bayern.

Former France coach Gerard Houllier said he was involved in an altercation with Ribery after France's 6-0 victory over Australia earlier this month. France Football reported that Ribery approached Houllier in the dressing room and had to be restrained by staff of the France team.

Houllier told L'Equipe newspaper that an incident took place but declined to give details. In an earlier interview with France Football, Houllier said: "Ribery is without doubt a technical leader - a very, very good player who's capable of making the difference and working for the rest of the team. But he's not a world-class player who's going to make the team win like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo."

Bayern officials would not agree. Club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said Ribery was "perhaps the best player in the world at the moment." "Franck plays with an unbelievable joy. The things he does with the ball is at likes like (Italian acrobat and performer Enrico) Rastelli," Bayern president Uli Hoeness said after Ribery scored twice in a 5-0 Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen.

Perhaps the Ballon d'Or decision should have been delayed. Unless Ribery takes France to the World Cup, he shouldn't get it. Messi will be there and so will either Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic.

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