Munich - I first met Franck Ribery at an FC Bayern Munich training camp in Donaueschingen in July 2007 and was assigned to follow “Ch’ti Franck's” first steps in Germany for l’equipe newspaper.
A lot of fun
His first two years in the country were like something out of a fairytale. He adapted to the attacking style of the Bundesliga straight away.
He almost single-handedly decided the outcome of his second ever Bundesliga match against Werder Bremen with his pace, dribbling and composure. As promised, he called me after the game and told me, while sitting in the Bayern bus, how pleased he was with his performance.
Our meetings were always a lot of fun: In January 2008, he was supposed to come to my flat and appear as a guest on a radio show. He arrived in his own car, accompanied by two friends from Marseille. He sat in my living room for almost two hours, answering listeners’ questions patiently. During the show, one of his friends fell asleep on the sofa and snored so loudly that Franck simply couldn't stop laughing.
Although I knew Franck was happy in Munich, I always got the impression something was missing in his life. He saw Bayern as a stepping stone on his way to Spain or England. When Franck wanted to join Real Madrid in 2009, I went on French radio every day to explain why Franck would be staying in Munich, while everyone in France was certain he was on his way to Real.
Then, in 2010, a difficult period arrived, culminating in the disappointing exit of the French national team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. And when details from his private life appeared in public I knew immediately that things would never be the same: We didn't see each other for 20 months, as he refused to speak to all members of the French media, including me.
In late 2011, I had lunch with Daniel Van Buyten and told him that his best friend was avoiding me. The defender was surprise and, incredibly, he persuaded his team-mate to talk to me again. Three days later, Franck approached me in the Mixed Zone at the Allianz Arena for a brief interview, as if nothing had ever happened. I discovered he had matured a great deal and that he finally understood Bayern were the best club for him.
Our relationship has now returned to normal. Back in 2010, I never would have believed he would come back a stronger man. I am now certain he will finish his career in Munich - he now knows he would neither be as happy, nor as popular in Spain or England.