Storm clouds loom for Ribery

There are good weeks, bad weeks,
and then there’s the truly horrendous weeks. It would be fair to say that
Franck Ribery’s falls fully into the latter.

The Bayern Munich and France
midfielder started the week facing up to stories about his relationship with a
Parisian prostitute Zahia Dehar, which claimed he had slept with the
18-year-old when she was 17, under the age of consent in France.

On Wednesday, he was dismissed in
the first half of Bayern’s Champions League semi-final first leg for an
appalling tackle on Lyon’s Lisandro Lopez, before reports suggested that he
could face a three-match ban for his challenge and furthermore, a three-year
jail sentence or a big fine for his relationship with Dehar.

Ribery, 27, is one of France’s
sporting icons and their great hope for the World Cup. As news broke of the
affair (he is married), the French media has been quiet in its criticism. Reports
in Germany and in Britain have been far more sensationalist, a fact explained
by Roger Zabel, one of France’s most respected journalists.

“At the moment, the French
press haven’t done too much apart from report the sporting ramifications,”
said Zabel.

“French press is a lot more
distant than its European counterpart. If the same thing had happened while
Ribery was, say, playing in England, he would have been big news in all of the

There has always been in France a
kind of unwritten rule which says journalists should respect people’s private
lives. Stories are not published until they become official. If a journalist
writes something that can’t be verified, they lose the confidence of the
players and managers and find it difficult to do their job.”

The relative rumour-silence in
France, however, can also be attributed to Ribery’s iconic status.

The French national team has
suffered since reaching the World Cup final in 2006, collapsing in Euro 2008 at
the group stages and needing a hand-ball by Thierry Henry to see them past the
Republic of Ireland in the Euro 2010 play-offs. Henry, as a result, lost a lot
of respect within France, and the French are still embarrassed by the way they

“Looking at the present
situation, Ribery is the only star in the French national team and generally,
we (the media) don’t touch our stars,” says Zabel, in a stance completely
different to the way the English media pilloried John Terry for his affair with
Wayne Bridge’s former partner earlier this year.

Ribery’s reputation and career are under threat. Real Madrid are still
interested in signing the winger after a deal fell through last summer, but the
move is much dependant on how he performs in the World Cup. Ironically, Ribery
told L’Equipe last month that he wants to move to Spain because “it rains a
lot in Munich and his wife wants to see the sun”. Right now, it seems
there are only storm clouds ahead.