After 12 years in Munich, Franck Ribery is set to leave Bayern. The winger sat down with DW to speak about his trophy-laden time with the club and explain why it's so difficult to say goodbye.
Franck Ribery has called Munich home for over a decade. His family has settled in Grünwald, a leafy suburb on the bank of the River Isar and the enigmatic winger has imprinted his DNA on Bayern Munich's storied history.
But following the German Cup final on May 25th, Ribery will be saying goodbye. His time with Bayern is coming to a close, the realities of age and circumstance are unavoidable as the club moves on from a golden era that Ribery has been central to.
Nine Bundesliga titles, five German Cups (potentially six), a Champions League title and a European player of the year award means a rich legacy will be left behind and remembered in the annals of Bayern forever. But that doesn't make the farewell any easier.
"The Bayern jersey means so much to me. I've had a great time wearing it over the last 12 years," he told DW in an exclusive interview. "I've experienced so many emotions with Bayern."
When speaking about his future, however, Ribery appears at a loss. A glittering career in Germany is coming to an abrupt end for the 36-year-old winger, who only accepted that this season would be his last earlier this month.
"I don't know. I don't know what... I'll keep going, of course, I still want to play football. But I don't know where. I don't really have a plan yet."
Ribery has been linked with a move to three different clubs in the Middle East; Al-Saad, Al Duhail (both in Qatar) and Al Nasr (Saudi Arabia) but his future is uncertain. At 36, it's a testament to his desire and passion for football that he doesn't want to hang up his boots just yet.
And, of course, his Bayern fairy tale is not over just yet. Ribery scored a second-half goal as the Bavarians sealed the Bundesliga title by beating Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 on the final day of the season, but they still have the German Cup final to play against RB Leipzig.
A domestic double would be a deserved send-off for one of the club's most loyal players, and having won the Bundesliga, there will be no repeat of 2012, which was one of the most frustrating for Ribery during his time in Munich.
"We finished second in the Bundesliga, we lost in the German Cup final and we lost against Chelsea at home in the Champions League final," he said.
"It was brutal. The Champions League final was particularly a big blow. That hurt. I don't know how we found the strength to come back after the off-season.
"But a year later we won the treble. Everyone knows that was our best season. And I was the best player in Europe, it was fantastic."
That season Ribery was electric, scoring 11 goals and laying on 23 assists. His partner in crime in that campaign, and for many years after, Arjen Robben, holds a special place in Ribery's heart.
"It's beautiful that people call us 'Robbery,' it's a great name," he said.
"We immediately had a good feeling together, on and off the pitch. And we've won everything together. He's a true professional, he's a great role model for our youngsters.
"It hurts, badly." he said of his feelings about the prospect of no longer playing alongside the Dutchman, who also found the target in his last Bundesliga match for Bayern. "People will never forget what we've done together. It will remain with us our whole lives."
Ribery is an emotional guy, and during the interview with DW he often switched from elation and excitement to sentimentality and foreboding. His imminent departure weighs heavy on him, but he lit up when speaking about the Bayern family.
He believes he was at his best under Jupp Heynckes, a "great person and a great coach" who "knows what his players need and what he has to do with them."
"For example, when he came back last season I'd been injured for almost three months," Ribery explained.
"When I returned to the team, I'd only played one minute, and we were about to face Paris Saint-Germain. He came to me and said: 'You're playing and you're captain.'
"I played for an hour and we won 3-1. It was awesome. These little details, the small things, they were important. And Jupp knew that. I'll never forget what we did and won together."
Ribery raved about his "little brother" David Alaba, whom he first met when the then-15-year-old was still at Bayern's boarding school.
"The boys weren't allowed to go out alone. But the woman taking care of them let the boys go out with me. We went into the city and got something to eat.
"So when Alaba started training with us I immediately said to him, 'Hey, you'll be fine, I'm here. No problem!' That was nice for him because it's not easy for youngsters when they join the first team.
"Now we've been together a long time and sit next to each other in the dressing room. What he's achieved so far is unbelievable. For me, David is one of the best players in his position."
A father-son bond
But special praise is kept for one man. A man synonymous with Bayern Munich and someone Ribery refers to as "like a father" – Bayern President Uli Hoeness.
"I can never forget this man. He did everything for me and my family," Ribery said.
When Hoeness was sent to prison for tax evasion in 2014, Ribery took it hard.
"It was difficult. It hurt me and my wife. I went to visit him once because it was important for me. I told him, 'It's tough but how can I help you? What can I do? Let me know, tell your wife that I'm here for you.'
"That's how it is between us, we're family. Uli for Bayern... he's done so much. He loves this club."
A final goodbye
Now, however, Ribery has to say goodbye to his Bavarian life. To his adopted home, his friends, his family, to the famous Mia San Mia phenomenon.
"There will be something missing for sure. I like to create a good atmosphere in the dressing room.
"That's why it will be difficult when I go – for the whole team, the staff, the physios, the fitness trainers. I love all of them and I respect everyone. I've already heard them saying: 'How will we cope without you.' It's sad but that's football and life."
"Still, I'm always positive, never negative, because life is beautiful. I want to wear the jersey two more times, because we have two very important games left. I hope we become champions on Saturday..."
And after that, after possibly winning another two trophies, what's next for Franck Ribery?
"One of the first phrases I learned (in Germany) was 'schaunen wir mal,'" he said.
That's German for "let's wait and see." Whatever awaits Ribery in the future, it's clear he'll forever carry a piece of Bayern in his heart.