Monday, November 18, 2013

Is Frank Ribery's Ballon d'Or credentials on the line against Ukraine?

Many believe that Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery has got better as a player and is the most deserving candidate for the FIFA Ballon d'Or, after helping the Bundesliga outfit to the treble last season, including the UEFA Champions League. He capped off a great season by scooping the 2013 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award and is now one of the front-runners for this year's Ballon d'Or.

Lionel Messi is seemingly out of the running thanks to a string of injuries this year and we may have a different Ballon d’Or winner for the first time in four years, the favorite seeming to be one of either Franck Ribery or Cristiano Ronaldo. While Ronaldo no doubt has the advantage as far as numbers are concerned, Ribery’s performances for Bayern Munich in their unprecedented treble last season are certainly going to give the Portugese superstar a run for his money.

Ronaldo has scored 16 goals in just 13 La Liga matches this season to go with 8 goals in 4 Champions League games for Real Madrid.  He finished the second half of the 2012-13 season with 20 goals in 17 league matches, and six in the Champions League.

Ribery, however, has electrified the left wing of the Bavarian giants. He may have scored fewer goals than Messi or Ronaldo, but he’s very important for his club. In the last two seasons, Bayern have beaten Real Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s two top clubs, in the semi-final of the Champions League, and Ribery was one of the key players on both occasions.

And yet, he is at the cusp of his greatest failure just when salvation is so near- France are almost set to miss out on their trip to Brazil for next year's World Cup following the 2-0 loss to Ukraine.

France were devoid of leadership on the pitch in against Ukraine and as they prepare for the return leg, it’s difficult to see who could step up to the plate and counted when it matters the most, despite the plethora of talents like Samir Nasri, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps has at his disposal. However gifted they may be, none of them have the potential spark in them to ignite the team like Ribery.

Tuesday night’s game against Ukraine could well prove to be a defining moment in Ribery’s career; an opportunity for the diminutive Frenchman to rise to the occasion, to be the hero and spare an underachieving France side from another humiliation and the barrage of criticism that comes with it. And clinch the Ballon d'Or with it.

Voting for the award closed on Friday night; so even though Ribery’s performance for France cannot be decisive, it will be symbolic if the man elected the world’s best fails to lead his side to the World Cup in Brazil. Only twice before has the reigning Ballon d’Or winner not appeared at the World Cup - Alfredo Di Stefano in 1957 and Allan Simonsen in 1977.

The Boulogne-born star may have pocketed the Champions League and Bundesliga with Bayern, but amid a capable group of France players, it would diminish the award’s worth if Ribery failed to lead his nation onto the planet’s elite stage.