Why I Cast My Vote for Ribery, the Key Player in Best Team of the Year
By Daily Telegraph | Published: 14th January 2014 06:00 AM |
Three big medals were compelling evidence that the Frenchman was the world footballer of 2013 writes Henry Winter
For those who judge the game on individual brilliance contributing to team success in the glorious pursuit of trophies, Bayern Munich's treble-winning Franck Ribery enjoyed an epic 2013, the key player in the best team, and earning this judge's vote for the Ballon d'Or won by a tearful Cristiano Ronaldo.
Convincing cases could be made for the three players on the short-list, for Lionel Messi as well as Ronaldo and Ribery. Ronaldo's scoring and dedication has been phenomenal, although Real Madrid did not win anything in 2013. Messi helped inspire Barcelona to La Liga and continues to grace the game.
Moving briefly away from the subjective nature of placing one player ahead of another, one reality that cannot be disputed is that football lovers are privileged to be watching the game in an era lit up by such talents. It is important to acknowledge that this is the decade-long era of Ronaldo and Messi, two individuals who deserve to be recognised among the greatest to play the game. It is also important to appreciate the facts, the stats and the destiny of trophies and honour what Ribery achieved in 2013.
The scarfaced Frenchman may not enjoy the same PR as Ronaldo or Messi. He does not feature in many style magazines or front ad campaigns. As Bayern suspect, he may not have had the same lobbying behind him as others. Yet he was the most dazzling star in the glittering galaxy of stars that was Bayern in 2013, easily Europe's most exceptional team of the year. What made Ribery even more special was that he stood out even when surrounded by such in-form winners as Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben, who all made the 23-strong long-list for the Ballon d'Or.
Judges are instructed to vote on this selection criteria: "Performances for club and/or national team (particularly in important matches), fair play and general level of performance in 2013.'' The key phrase has to be "in important matches", meaning title-deciders, Champions League tests and major internationals. Ribery delivered time and again: the treble of Bundesliga, Champions League and German Cup as well as those gilded baubles of Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup. Along the way, he collected individual honours as Bundesliga player of the year (not bad in a league that produced the two best sides in Europe, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund) and ws voted Most Valuable Player in Fifa's world shindig in Morocco. Most significantly, Ribery was voted by Uefa as its Best Player in Europe, receiving the award in Monaco in August ahead of Ronaldo and Messi.
In winning the treble last year, Ribery's footwork and hard work were constantly on display. He showed balance, technique, confidence in either foot, losing markers with a dropped shoulder and a flick of acceleration to dribble into the box, creating chances for team-mates or finishing himself.
The way Ribery changed direction, tricking the very best defenders, almost carried echoes of Johan Cruyff in his Ajax pomp. Ronaldo, technically a superior player to Ribery, had a sensational year but without the medals Ribery picked up.
For lovers of stats, the main criterion where Ronaldo and Messi eclipse Ribery is in goals scored
(66, 42, 22), although his supporters in Germany argue about the respective qualities of the bottom of La Liga compared to the Bundesliga. But Ribery won more games (45) than Ronaldo (40) or Messi (26). According to statistics compiled by the BBC, Ribery made more dribbles (1,084) than Ronaldo (252) and Messi (331), created more chances (149 to Ronaldo's 94 and Messi's 70), made more passes (2,903 to Messi's 2,136 and Ronaldo's 1901) and made more assists (18 to the others' 15). He definitely tracked back more.
It was Ribery's understanding of the need to press quickly, regaining the ball, and covering back occasionally to cover for adventurous full-backs that made him even more revered by his team-mates. His all-round influence in the Champions League brought that individual plaudit from Uefa. Ribery was actually not great at the Emirates in the round of 16, but an ankle injury meant he missed the second leg when Bayern lost 2-0 (but still progressed on aggregate). Bayern looked poorer without the counter-attacking threat of their No?7.
In the quarter-final win at Juventus, Ribery's ability was seen in one particularly audacious pass to Mario Mandzukic. In the semi-final against Barcelona, Ribery was good in the first leg at the Allianz Arena and even better at Camp Nou; unstoppable down the flanks, two of his crosses brought a Gerard Pique own goal and Muller headed goal. In the final, Ribery played a part in both Bayern goals at Wembley.
There is dismay in parts of France and Germany over this particular vote in a competition which was run solely by France Football magazine until merging with Fifa's World Player of the Year. The vote was expanded to include the captain and coach of each European national team as well as one reporter from each European country.
It all seemed straightforward this year. On Nov 1, I received an email from France Football with the 23 players chosen by the Fifa Football Committee and the editors of France Football. After consideration of the merits of Neuer and Lahm, Robben and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the leading three were obvious: Ribery, Messi and Ronaldo. After deciding to award the first-place five points to Ribery, I gave three to Messi on the basis of his superb contribution to Barcelona's La Liga triumph and one point to Ronaldo in third. On Nov 14, a day before the deadline, cutting it slightly late as usual, I cast the vote by email.
On Nov 19, all voters received an email from France Football, saying that not all had voted - amazingly - and the deadline was therefore being extended to Nov 29. The conspiracy theorists went into overdrive as it followed a rapprochement between Ronaldo and the Fifa president Sepp Blatter, as it allowed both legs of the European World Cup play-offs to be included. Ronaldo's fabulous displays for Portugal against Sweden were inevitably fresh in the minds of those late-voting judges. (Ribery was also playing well, guiding France past Ukraine).
For those who abided by the original deadline, the vote was cast, and could not be recast. I would not have changed anyway. For France and particularly Bayern, Franck Ribery was utterly magnificent in 2013. Three big medals confirm that.