Anyone feeling certain that this year's UEFA Champions League trophy is heading either to England or Spain cannot have been following the progress of FC Bayern München and their outrageously gifted schemer Franck Ribéry. The French midfielder has a habit of making things happen for the Bundesliga titleholders and he has set his sights on winning Europe's leading club competition "as soon as possible".
Rarely can such a stunning result have made so few waves. Bayern owe their spot in the UEFA Champions League last eight to a 12-1 aggregate victory over Sporting Clube de Portugal in the first knockout round, a record post-group stage outcome and a scoreline so overwhelmingly one-sided that observers seemed to dismiss it as a footballing anomaly. Sensibly, Ribéry and Co have likewise avoided reading too much into the magnitude of that success, but they will fear absolutely no one as they target their fifth European Champions Clubs' Cup trophy.
'We enjoyed it'
"We really controlled those games, especially the first leg," said Ribéry, who scored twice in the opener before missing the return encounter through injury. "We won 5-0, we really enjoyed it and we played a great game over there in Lisbon. The second leg was difficult for Sporting, but we took that game really seriously and we managed to score seven goals. It was very important, especially for the fans."
Bayern's reward for those performances is a quarter-final contest with FC Barcelona, whose own attacking prowess has been far from a secret this season. The Spanish Liga leaders have registered 84 times in 28 league games and many are backing them to emerge victorious at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on 27 May. "Everyone knows them," said Ribéry. "Since the beginning of the season they have dominated everything. For me, they are one of the best teams in the world right now. They are very strong technically, they play such great football and score many goals."
Bayern have stuttered on the domestic scene, in contrast, which may well explain why they head into next Wednesday's first leg as underdogs. Jürgen Klinsmann's troops lie a point behind Hertha BSC Berlin in Germany and both coach and squad have come in for criticism. "[Klinsmann] is always close to us, even if it's not always been easy," explained Ribéry. "He's been through some very difficult times. Just before the two games against Sporting, we weren't getting good results in the Bundesliga; it was difficult and we were being criticised by everyone. It wasn't easy, but we stood together, bounced back and focused again. The team feels better now."
Team of the Year
Missing Ribéry through injury has been one problem for Bayern since the season began – their talisman having appeared in 17 of 25 league games – but he is now raring to lead the charge at home and abroad. And, as far as the voting public are concerned, the Bavarian giants could possess no better player down the left flank. The 25-year-old won a place in the 2008 uefa.com Team of the Year, seeing off the challenge of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, David Silva and Barcelona's very own Andrés Iniesta. "It's a real pleasure to know that a lot of fans like me and support me," said Ribéry. "It makes me want to get even better, be more confident to play really well and have fun too. It's difficult being up against players like these in left midfield; they're great players. Now it's up to me to continue playing just as well, to give 100 per cent and have lots of fun."
The former FC Metz, Galatasaray AŞ and Olympique de Marseille provocateur has always been a crowd-pleaser – one of that rare breed of footballer capable of enjoying his talents while expressing them – and he favours a similar approach without a ball at his feet. "I like to have fun off the pitch too," he stated. "I like to have a good time with everyone. I want to enjoy plenty of things and have fun with my kids and wife. That's very important." Ribéry is well known as the joker in the Bayern pack, in fact, having recently commandeered the team bus while in Dubai, after previously having the temerity to empty a bucket of water over former goalkeeper Oliver Kahn from the roof of the club's training centre.
"Humour is very important," continued the Boulogne-sur-Mer native. "It's important to always be smiling, to wake up and feel good. We have a great job, we like what we do and we have fun. The sun has been shining recently too, which is nice." Life has not always been so straightforward, of course, with Ribéry still bearing the scars of an automobile accident when he was two years old, but previous hardships have left him with excellent perspective. "Now I'm enjoying every moment. I always try to go forward and not ask myself too many questions."
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