AT THE AGE of just 19, where Kylian Mbappé will end up is a scary prospect. Already possessing a skillset many could merely dream of, he is rightly viewed as one of France’s main men in their quest for glory at the 2018 World Cup. Those hopes of a nation were previously bestowed on the talented shoulders of Franck Ribéry, a man whose ascent to the top was far less straightforward, featuring building sites, amateur football, and a two-year legal dispute.
Ribéry was born in the coastal city of Boulogne in April 1983 and endured a difficult upbringing. Thrown through a car windscreen at the age of two, the reason for the trademark scar on his right cheek, he required hundreds of stitches to repair the damage. He also grew up on a notoriously rough council estate on the fringes of the city, and at the age of 16 was released from the Lille youth academy for being too small and struggling academically.
Returning to his roots and signing for Boulogne, he debuted for his hometown team in 2000 as an 18-year-old. After two seasons in the fourth tier, Ribéry moved to Alès for a season before that club went bust. During this time he worked with his father as a construction worker, and after Guingamp passed on him in favour of Farid Talhaoui, he went to Brest. His form there was enough to help the club win promotion, with the most assists in the Championnat National. Coupled with a standout performance against Nantes in the Coupe de France, Ribéry earnt a move in the summer of 2004 to Ligue 1 outfit Metz.
Joining on a free transfer, the player only spent six months in Lorraine, with his impressive displays on the right flank leading to comparisons by fans to club legend Robert Pirès. In August he won the Player of the Month award – with two assists and a starring performance at the Stade Vélodrome against Marseille – meaning Ribéry’s stock was rapidly rising.
In the January transfer window there was widespread interest from the likes of Ajax, Lens and Lille, although Ribéry decided to relocate to Turkish giants Galatasaray. The terms of the deal, an initial six-month loan with the option to buy for €3 million, were to prove particularly key. Initially, Ribéry was used sparingly, not included in the squad for his first two matches prior to half an hour as a substitute in a 3-0 win against Rizespor in mid-February.
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His first start came a fortnight later at Samsunspor, where he was taken off with 12 minutes left in a 2-1 defeat. Ribéry’s first contribution came in early March’s 1-0 win over Beşiktaş, where a shot from the Frenchman was spilled by Óscar Córdoba for Hakan Şükür to sweep home. The following week, Ribéry nabbed an assist against İstanbulspor, speeding away down the right to square for Hasan Kabze to complete his hat-trick.
The Frenchman was starting to show signs of being the player he is known as today. The next match, against Ankaraspor, a 4-2 win, yielded two more assists in the opening 25 minutes. The first was a wonderful cross from deep on the right-hand side for Şükür to volley home, and the second a delicate chip to a similar area for Necati Ateş to finish off.
Such impressive form prompted Gheorghe Hagi to invoke the option to buy him in March 2005, with Ribéry signing a three-and-a-half-year deal until June 2008. The move looked like smart business, with the player cementing his place as a regular starter on the wings. These impressive performances led to him becoming a fans’ favourite, with Ribéry’s speed leading to the nickname “Ferraribéry”.
Another assist, this time a cross for the winner against Ankaragücü in May, kept Galatasaray in the title race, and despite losing out to Fenerbahçe, Ribéry ensured the same thing would not happen in the cup final. With little over 15 minutes played, a wonderful arching run split the Fenerbahçe defence and, found by Ateş, Ribéry fired low past Rüştü Reçber for his only goal in Galatasaray colours.
He then helped doubled the lead shortly after, leaving Önder Turacı on his backside as he pulled back for Ateş to sweep home. Taken off early in the second half, Şükür then went on to net a hat-trick as Gala triumphed 5-1, their biggest derby win since 1960. The first trophy of Ribéry’s career was to be a false dawn, though, with the Frenchman quickly turning from hero to villain.
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After signing permanently in March, Ribéry decided to terminate his contract in June owing to a four-month backlog of unpaid wages. During Ribéry’s six months in Turkey he claims he was only paid once, and in a whirlwind development, he returned to France to sign for Marseille. The confusion of this situation caused anger amongst Galatasaray fans, ascending to far higher international attention than the average Turkish transfer.
Matters were hardly helped by Galatasaray’s aggressive behaviour, with new manager Erik Gerets questioning his attitude. Meanwhile, one evening back in France, Ribéry’s family home was supposedly visited by his former agent John Bico and two Galatasaray board members. It is reported Bico banged on the door before threatening to hit Ribéry’s car with a baseball bat and, fearing the worst, he was forced to call his lawyer and the military police.
Galatasaray were refusing to accept the player’s departure, giving rise to an international court case that dragged on for nearly two years. Their message was clear, with board member Mehmet Helvacı remarking: “Our ultimate aim is to get Ribéry back. If he does not want to play for us, Olympique Marseille, Ribéry’s lawyer and the person who calls himself his manager will pay the price for this. FIFA regulations state that unless there is a delay longer than three months, delays in payments do not constitute a breach of contract.”
Their case centred around this belief, with Ribéry being paid in February alongside what they thought constituted another lump payment in June. There was also a clause in the contract that Ribéry was not allowed to negotiate with any other club without first notifying Galatasaray. In their eyes, the player had gone behind their back with Marseille, and as such violated these conditions. They also pointed to a further clause that stated should Ribéry wish to negotiate with another club, he would have to pay a €10 million termination fee.
Ribéry’s defence, meanwhile, pointed to a condition stating that should Galatasaray violate other provisions in the contract, the player would be able to dissolve his association with the club upon providing three days’ notice. The irregularity of payments led Ribéry to believe such a thing had occurred, and that he had just cause for termination. On 13 June 2005, Ribéry sent a letter to Galatasaray President Özhan Canaydın, stating how despite multiple pleas from his agent the club had failed to respond, which gave him no option but to leave.
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The following day, Ribéry referred the matter to FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC), while Galatasaray paid the majority of his wages and bonuses in a last-ditch attempt to get him to stay. By this stage, though, he had lost all trust in the club, and Ribéry duly signed for Marseille. FIFA ruled he was eligible to play in July of that year, although Galatasaray’s stubbornness meant off the pitch the debate still rumbled on.
After almost a year of deliberation, in May 2006, the DRC announced their verdict. They sided with Ribéry, stating that the contract had been violated by Galatasaray and that the player was justified in leaving. Despite this, they didn’t go so far as to support Ribéry’s claim for compensation, nor Marseille’s demands that the Turkish club pay all their legal costs.
Galatasaray were still not finished, contesting this decision by taking it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. After a further year, in April 2007 the verdict again stood in favour of the player, with Galatasaray’s reasoning of the June payment being dismissed as not sufficient enough, given the length of time Ribéry went without wages. Despite all these difficulties, Ribéry reflected positively on the experience: “I’m happy to have played in Turkey and gotten to know the fans. People there represent their country and their clubs, they live for football. They liked me and accepted me, and I’m upset at leaving.”
By now, Ribéry had ascended to even greater heights, leading Marseille to two French Cup finals and been voted Ligue 1 Young Player of the Season. In the summer of 2007 he completed a €25 million transfer to Bayern Munich, and by the end of the year had been voted French Player of the Year. During his time in Germany, Ribéry has won the Bundesliga seven times, the DFB-Pokal five times, and Champions League once, alongside being voted the best player in Europe in 2013.
It is for this foreign escapade that Ribéry will be remembered for, a decade of trophies and personal accolades that have cemented his position as one of the greats of his generation. Nevertheless, one cannot overstate the impact of the 17 appearances he made for Galatasaray, which played a key part in making him the superstar he is today.