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Ribery provides more questions than answers

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Phil Minshull | 10:29 UK time, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

This seems as good a time as any to ask a slightly irreverent but provocative question: "Just what is going on inside Franck Ribery's head?"

This conundrum has pan-European connotations as we are talking about a French international playing at a German club who is apparently at loggerheads with its Dutch coach and being openly courted by leading sides from Spain and Italy.

The usual suspects from the Premier League - the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea - have also been regularly mentioned as possible destinations for Ribery this summer.

Some pundits would consider Ribery to be the most talented European left winger around at the moment, an assessment that I'd share even though there are some other good candidates.

It's an impression that has persisted since his outstanding showing at the 2006 World Cup - and it's for this reason that his future is such a hot topic.

Franck RiberyFrench winger Franck Ribery could be coming to the end of his time at Bayern Munich

This season hasn't been an easy one for the 26-year-old from Boulogne-sur-Mer. He's either been battling with injuries or been engaged in a battle of wits with both Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal - "His training was hard and his philosophy was even harder to understand," said Ribery earlier this season - and club president Uli Hoeness.

Ribery momentarily stopped people talking about his off-the-pitch issues with a fantastic goal on Sunday that gave 'FC Hollywood', as Bayern are sarcastically known in Germany, a 1-0 win over Hamburg. The victory saw Bayern return to the top of the Bundesliga for the first time since they won the title in 2008.

Just when the game looked like it was heading for a goalless stalemate late in the second half, Ribery picked up the ball up on the left wing and took it 20 metres before unleashing a right foot cannonball from the corner of the penalty box. German TV clocked his shot at 112km per hour.

"Franck has the quality to decide matches," conceded van Gaal. The strike was even enough to make the front pages of some of the sports papers in Spain on Monday, with AS proclaiming: "Ribery wakes up!"

However, this new rapprochement may only be temporary as Ribery has said he will not renegotiate his contract, which expires in June 2011, if Bayern are not still in the Champions League in April.

This is far from guaranteed as Bayern only managed to beat Fiorentina 2-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie two weeks ago, thanks to a highly controversial Miroslav Klose header in the last minute that was clearly offside to most onlookers.

If Ribery doesn't put pen to paper pretty quickly - and rumours of an Easter deadline abound - Hoeness has said that he will sell him as soon as possible rather than wait another 12 months, when he would be free to leave for nothing.

"If Ribery doesn't renew his deal in the spring, it would be fiscally irresponsible to keep him, as he's out-of-contract in 2011. We'd just be giving away €50-60m in that case," said Hoeness recently, giving an indication of how much Bayern would be looking for.

Real Madrid are many people's bet for Ribery's signature, sooner or later.

Hoeness said last week that he thought that an informal understanding might have been made between Ribery and Real last season, when the relationship between Ribery and former Bayern coach Jurgen Klinsmann hit the rocks.

Ribery shares the same agent, Alain Migliaccio, as his compatriot Zinedine Zidane, who is now the special advisor to Real president Florentino Perez. Ribery has also said in the past that Real were in touch with him about moving to the Bernabeu when he was at Marseille.

The Spanish media in the past few days have been working themselves into a light lather over the fact that Perez will be at close quarters with with Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at the European Club Association (ECA) general assembly in Manchester, which started on Monday, and could possibly be setting up a deal.

However, I think Ribery may still think twice about moving to Real.

Akhmed Hussain from Sheffield asked me, via email, a few weeks ago which club would be best suited to the Frenchman if he left Bayern. Well, it could be Barcelona.

There would certainly seem to be space for a player of Ribery's talents at Real, but coach Manuel Pellegrini seems quite happy to use Marcelo down the left flank. I can't imagine that Ribery would be happy to spend time sitting on the bench.

I'm also sure that Ribery's Bayern colleague Arjen Robben has told him a few tales about life at Real, both for better and for worse.

Jose Antonio ReyesFormer Arsenal player Jose Antonio Reyes has been in fine form for Atletico Madrid

By contrast, if Thierry Henry leaves Barcelona in the summer, Ribery could fill his boots quite comfortably.

Ribery also has said in the past that having French speakers in the dressing room makes him feel more at home. While Real have Lass Diarra and Karim Benzema, whom Ribery knows well from international duty, Barcelona also have Eric Abidal and Mali's Seydou Keita on hand to act as ad hoc translators.

I think it is highly likely that Barcelona president Joan Laporta, who like Perez is also on the executive of the ECA, will also try to do a bit of smooching with Rummenigge in Manchester. But, at the end of the day, it's what's going on inside Ribery's thoughtful head that will ultimately count.

Comments on the blog in the space provided below. Other questions on European football to I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

Here's a couple from the postbag which related to Spanish players and their international prospects

Q) I've been impressed with Pedro of Barcelona this season. In your opinion will he go to the World Cup?
Adam Manzie, Scotland

A) Sadly, at least for him and you, I don't think he'll go to the World Cup unless there are injuries. Vicente Del Bosque didn't name him in the squad to play France in Paris on Wednesday. He said on Friday at the announcement that "the list for South Africa isn't closed" but I doubt he'll be looking much further than the 23 players he has named for this match, unless something dramatic demands a change of plan.

However, if Pedro continues to play as well as he has been doing, his time could come after the World Cup.

Q) I wanted to ask you about Jose Antonio Reyes. At one point in time he was on top form for Arsenal and looking like a fantastic prospect. However, he now plays mediocre football at Atletico Madrid. Do you think he will ever return to his previous form and be able to break back into the Spanish national team?
Ravi Sonecha, England

A) Have you watched Atletico's matches since the start of the year? Reyes has been in terrific form in many matches and is playing some of his best football since those halcyon days at Arsenal. However, I don't think there is any way back for him as far as La Roja is concerned. He clearly isn't part of Vicente Del Bosque's plans and, despite him only being 26, I can't see Reyes adding to his 21 caps in the near future.


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