Described as "the jewel of French football" by no less a judge than Zinédine Zidane, Franck Ribéry is one of football's most compelling characters. In an exclusive interview with Champions, official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, the FC Bayern München winger explains why times are good at the Fußball Arena München.
Champions: What do you prefer, scoring or creating goals?
Franck Ribéry: I prefer being the set-up man. I feel I've improved in that role. In the past, sometimes I didn't take my chances well because I was unsure what to do – put the ball away myself or pass. I see myself as a set-up man and if that results in a goal it feels just as good to me. Perhaps I lack a goalscoring instinct.
Champions: Did you have any boyhood idols?
Ribéry: Individual players, no. But I always thought Marseille were great – Jean-Pierre Papin and the others.
Champions: Who are the best attacking players in the world?
Ribéry: Lionel Messi is No1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi, Wayne Rooney, Arjen Robben. Can I measure up to Messi? There are some similarities to our games. We're both quick and skilful. And when I'm feeling good I can make things happen.
Champions: How far ahead of Bayern are FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF?
Ribéry: Barcelona set the standards. Real have a very, very good team. But we've gained ground and are getting closer to the top.
Champions: Will Bayern dominate the Bundesliga again …
Whether you call it dominance or something else, there's a good atmosphere in the club. We're having fun and that finds its expression in good play.
Champions: Do you expect to waltz through the league?
Ribéry: If you're playing for Bayern, you become used to the club's standards and demands. But waltzing through the league? The season is long and a lot can happen. But one thing is certain: we want to be top to the end, if possible.
Champions: Is Bayern's revival linked to coach Jupp Heynckes?
Ribéry: I get along with him brilliantly. I feel his trust, his human touch. He talks a lot with us and that clears my head for the pitch. Plus, I'm incredibly happy about the birth of my son. And when I'm happy, you can see it on the pitch.
Champions: What has changed at Bayern?
Ribéry: Basically everyone defends, everyone attacks. There's a sense of unity that gives us stability. We are well organised, yet we enjoy the freedom the coach gives us.
Champions: Impressive early form leads to high expectations …
Ribéry: You cannot afford to find form slowly, especially in the Champions League. We lost our first Bundesliga game, at home to Mönchengladbach, but didn't panic.
Champions: The new system means you have to defend. Can you handle that?
Ribéry: When I'm really fit, as I am now, I'll track back and still have enough power to be effective up front. It's good having a stable partner on my wing again in Philipp Lahm. Last season we often made changes in that position and it wasn’t easy.
Champions: Speaking of the Bayern attack, Arjen Robben has come back after a lengthy lay-off ...
Ribéry: He made his comeback against Leverkusen. Everyone could see how important he is for us.
Champions: Didn't you and Robben once have a slight disagreement because he didn't pass the ball?
Ribéry: Arjen's a goal-getter. He wants to score, simple as. That can lead to an argument. But we sort that out on the pitch. He is a world-class person.
Champions: Are we seeing the best and happiest Ribéry?
Ribéry: That's hard to say, but I feel this could be the best time of my life. I need a positive atmosphere to play well. Football is enjoyment, I have and need to have fun when playing. Heynckes gives me that.
Champions: You've had difficult times on and off the pitch. How have you learned from them?
Ribéry: The most important thing is to draw the right conclusions so you can cope better the next time things aren't going well. I focus on football and family. That's what makes me happiest.
Champions: Can you imagine staying at Bayern a long time?
Ribéry: Definitely. My family feels comfortable here and I do too. And my son is Bavarian. When I'm happy, our fans are happy too. They sense this and have always supported me enormously.
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