July 8, 2006
EIGHT years ago, Franck Ribery was a fan in the streets of the port city of Boulogne, watching France’s 1998 World Cup campaign unfold as a schoolboy. Zinedine Zidane was a hero and dreams of a professional career, let alone a World Cup final, did not even register on his radar.
On Sunday (4am Monday, Sydney time), having made his full debut for France just eight weeks ago, Ribery will not only line up alongside Zidane and play in a World Cup final but be one of coach Raymo nd Domen against Italy.
“I was watching the 1998 games with my friends, and then going out into the street to celebrate,” Ribery said of France’s winning campaign. “I must have been about 15 at the time and the only thing on my mind was to scream, ‘Allez les Bleus!’ louder and louder each time we won.”
At 23, Ribery is the youngest member of Domenech’s squad but he has fitted into an often complex French jigsaw with ease and confidence. Far from the glamorous superstar, Ribery carries a scar on his face from a car accident when he was two, making him appear more legionnaire than movie star.
But the Marseilles midfielder has attracted attention for his football rather than looks and is now being chased by several big clubs, including Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Yet just two years ago, Ribery was playing in France’s third division after being kicked out of Lille’s youth academy and before converting to Islam. It is not for show. He is a regular attendee of mosques near Marseilles, where he lives with his Moroccan-born wife Wahiba.
“Islam is my source of strength either in or outside the playground,” he said. “I led a difficult career, I was determined to find peace of mind and I finally found Islam.”
Ribery is France’s new kid on the block but he has been welcomed into the squad.
“Every one of my teammates gives me a little something because they’re all more experienced than me,” Ribery said. “Even though I can imagine it couldn’t have been easy seeing this young guy show up, something I totally understand, I’ve been extremely well-received.
“I feel really at ease in this team. The atmosphere is excellent and that shows on the pitch. Without doubt, the players I’m closest to are Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry. I listen to advice from Zizou [Zidane] all the time. Basically, I just try and share my joie de vivre and fit in with the squad.”
Matthew Hall

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