Munich - A staggering 17 points clear at the top of the table, red-hot pace-setters FC Bayern Munich go into their next Bundesliga assignment at 1899 Hoffenheim having failed to earn maximum points in only four of their 23 top-flight outings this term to date.
Franck Ribery was absent for two of those fixtures, one of which was their sole 2-1 defeat at home to Bayer Leverkusen in late October - a measure of the 29-year-old Frenchman's contribution to a Bayern side sweeping all before them at present.
With five goals of his own, eight direct assists and well over 100 scoring opportunities carved out for his colleagues already in 2012/13, Ribery acknowledges that “it’s going brilliantly in the Bundesliga and hopefully that’s how it will continue, but there are still a lot of games to go. We need to stay focused. There are two other titles up for grabs as well – the DFB Cup and the Champions League".
Summing up his own role, the wing wizard explains: “I’m always looking for the ball – otherwise, I’m not much use.” And while even the most casual observer is left in no doubt as to his sheer love for the game, a driving ambition has been elemental to Ribery's far-from-straightforward rise to the top: “I always want to win. 100 percent, or it’s no fun."
On that basis, there must be fun by the bucket-load at FC Bayern these days. On Matchday 23, the Bavarians rang in head coach Jupp Heynckes' 1,000th Bundesliga game as player and coach with a 6-1 whipping of old foes Werder Bremen. Ribery chipped in with a goal and an assist but, the one-sided scoreline notwithstanding, insisted: “It wasn't an easy game, but we did a very good job right from the start. Once we were 2-0 up, and Bremen had a man sent off, it got easier. We wanted to push on in the second half. Scoring goals and enjoying ourselves - that's important.”
Indeed, and for no-one more so than Ribery. His own experience with FC Bayern has, at times, been something of a rollercoaster ride, as he himself admits: “I need to be given a free hand out on the pitch in order to play well. I can’t cloud my mind thinking about having to do something this or that particular way. That’s not my game."
Which is not to say that Ribery is an egotist. Far from it. In fact, he is every inch the team player, but also a football artist who thrives on a corresponding degree of artistic license: “I need to do my share of the defensive work, for sure, but when I’m on the ball, I make an intuitive decision on whether to pass, play a long ball or shoot. Our former coach Louis van Gaal always wanted me to follow precise instructions. I just said: 'Let me play my game, that won’t work, it’s crazy.' I had my own philosophy – anything else just isn’t Franck Ribery. It’s great now with Jupp Heynckes - and it’s working.”