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Conflicted Ribery keeps on choosing the hard way

His up-and-down time at Bayern Munich mirrors a career that's seen Franck Ribery rise to the top - the hard way. At the World Cup this summer, his French teammates will need him to be on his best behavior.

Franck Ribery at a press event

France will be putting its faith in Ribery at the World Cup

The French Football Federation runs 12 elite academies for young players all over the country. The most famous is Clairefontaine, southwest of Paris. From the 23-man France squad heading to the World Cup, four players - Thierry Henry, Abou Diaby, William Gallas and Nicolas Anelka - are Clairefontaine graduates. On top of fooball technique, their pyschological, medical and tactical development was nurtured at the centre during their teenage years.

The contrast to the way in which Franck Ribery made his way into soccer could not be more striking.

Born in the working-class town of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France, Ribery was bullied as a youngster because of his crooked teeth and the scars a car accident left on his face. He was briefly part of OSC Lille's youth set-up before being released - without having earned a high school diploma at the school there because of his disciplinary problems.

Learning to fight with his feet

Ribery spent a year playing for French third division club Olympique Ales, until the club filed for bankruptcy and was forced to drop down three divisions further. Another lower-league season with Stade Brest followed, before a 21-year-old Ribery got his big break, at Ligue 1 side FC Metz.

He lasted just six months. The club reconsidered putting Ribery on better wages after he was involved in a nightclub brawl, and the fiery winger quit the club.

"Anyone could recognize that Franck was an excellent player," recalls one of his early coaches, Jose Pereira. "But you had always to keep an eye on him. He was a boy of the street."

Turkish club Galatasaray took him on loan in January 2005, but again, he only stayed until the summer.

From Turkey, Ribery returned to his homeland, and one last chance with top-flight Olympique Marseille. Something clicked there for Ribery, and his performances that first season were so good that France coach Raymond Domenech called him into the national side just weeks before the 2006 World Cup.

WM 2006 -Spiel - Frankreich - Schweiz

Ribery's speed caught defenders by surprise in 2006

Once at the tournament, he soon became first-choice, and took part in every game at the tournament as France finished runners-up to Italy.

Europe's biggest clubs came calling for his signature, but he stayed another year with Marseille, and was rewarded with the French Footballer of the Year prize. In June 2007, Bayern Munich broke the German transfer record to bring Ribery to the Bundesliga for 25 million euros.

Staying at Bayern...

"This is not just a gain for Bayern, but for the entire Bundesliga," said German football icon Franz Beckenbauer as Ribery arrived. The league's defenders may not have been as enthused, but Mark van Bommel was happy he was playing on the same team as the Frenchman. "His footballing abilities aren't extraterrestrial, but close," the Bayern captain said. Ribery brought flair and a penchant for the unexpected to a team previously lacking in creative instinct. Bayern won the league and cup double in 2007-08; Ribery won German Footballer of the Year in his debut season.

Yet Ribery the free-spirit, the hot-head, didn't go down well with everyone. After disciplinarian Louis van Gaal arrived as Bayern coach in July 2009, Ribery sulked, and made no secret of his desire to leave the club, with Real Madid, Chelsea and Barcelona potential destinations. A flash-point between coach and player came during Bayern's winter training camp in Dubai. Ribery was not in full training due to niggling injuries and after doing his laps alone, spat: "Running is for animals. But football is with the brain and with the ball."

Franck Ribery celebrates with coach Louis van Gaal after scoring against Borussia Dortmund

Ribery and van Gaal were best of friends, eventually

As the season progressed Ribery eventually showed good form, but in April 2010, Ribery - who is married with two children - became embroiled in a prostitution scandal involving under-age girls in a Parisian nightclub.

On the pitch, he missed out on playing in the Champions League final after being sent off in the previous round. Bayern did though secure a domestic league and cup double. With his three years in Bavaria already the longest he has stayed at any club, Ribery recently accepted the offer of a contract extension until 2015.

The midfielder is the French international team's standout talent, their go-to player when creative potency is required. It will be interesting to see, however, whether they can really rely on a former rebel and drifter in South Africa.

Author: Olivia Fritz / tms
Editor: Matt Hermann

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