Franck Ribery may already be a long-established member of an elite group of the world's best footballers, thanks in no small part to his pace and individual ability, but even by his standards the past year has been extraordinary. The 30-year-old was a key component of the Bayern Munich side that won a domestic league and cup double, as well as triumphing in the UEFA Champions League, a success which earned his club a place at the forthcoming FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013.
Nevertheless, with just a few weeks left until the turn of the year, Ribery is once again under immense pressure. With a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on the line as France prepare to do battle with Ukraine in the European play-offs, FIFA.com spoke to the winger.
FIFA.com: What are your thoughts on the play-offs against Ukraine, who are standing between you and a place at Brazil 2014?
Franck Ribery: For me it's very important that we qualify. Ukraine are a good team but France have to be in Brazil. We're also a good side and need to play well over the two games. It won't be easy but we can win.
What would it mean for France if they missed out on a ticket to Brazil?
That would be a catastrophe for the whole country. It's hard to think about that, we can't put ourselves under too much pressure. We need to play without fear.
How happy were you to have drawn Ukraine?
Every team would have been tough, for example playing against Iceland or Portugal wouldn't have been easy either. There's so much at stake in these games, you can't afford to make any mistakes. You have to win.
Have you already been in touch with your former team-mate Anatoliy Tymoschuk?
Yes, we've spoken and we're both looking forward to the game, but I hope we come out on top.
Is it an advantage to play the first leg away from home?
It's definitely important. If we play well in Ukraine and manage to win then that would put us in a very good position for the return leg at home.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which did not go so well for France?
It was difficult for us in 2010 and now we have a chance to make amends. We need to beat Ukraine and then we can travel to Brazil and hopefully have a good tournament. Maybe there we'll be able to give a better account of ourselves again.
You just set a new Bundesliga record with Bayern and several players are still out injured. Can Bayern improve even further once they return?
If everyone's involved and nobody gets injured then we'll get better. When you've got a big squad you can make more changes. When you're playing a game very three of four days and always have to win, the chances of picking up an injury are high. Last year we coped very well, Jupp Heynckes rotated frequently and we hardly had any injuries. It'll definitely be good for us when everyone's back.
Philipp Lahm recently said he thought Bayern had improved under Pep Guardiola but were not yet playing their best. What is missing?
Sometimes we play well, sometimes not so well. We recently had a couple of problems in the first half and we need to work on that. Our understanding of what the coach wants is improving all the time and he's always positive. Every match is something different, but we'll get there.
Why is it that you have often had difficulties in the first half?
I don't know. We're usually better in the second half. When you play every three or four days you travel a lot and that's not easy.
The Club World Cup Morocco 2013 takes place in December. How important is the tournament to you?
I think it's very important. Every title and every competition is important for the club. We want to win it and have fun together.
How important is the Club World Cup compared to winning the league or the UEFA Supercup?
Every title is completely different, including the emotions they create in you. The atmosphere is always nice after winning, so we have to go to Morocco and win it, both for ourselves and for the club.
As a French-speaking Muslim country, will it be a special occasion for you to play in Morocco?
Of course! I'm a Muslim too and Morocco is a football-crazy country with great stadiums. I'm sure there'll be a great atmosphere and that it'll be very different to playing here. We want to go there to win and then we can go on holiday.
Have you ever been to Morocco?
Not yet no. I've been to Algeria as my wife's from there. I was there for two weeks and had a wonderful time. The people there are very friendly and I've got a lot of friends there. So far I've only heard good things about Morocco.
You have a lot of childhood friends from north Africa. Will they travel to Morocco to see you?
I have got a lot of friends from Morocco but I don't yet know if they'll go. I think Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians and Egyptians all have a similar mentality as they're all Maghrebian. They're wonderful people.
Is it harder to play against teams you do not know and have never faced before?
That's not a problem. For us it's just important to play our game and to win.
Would you like to play against Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro and Ronaldinho in the final?
That would be great, they're a good team with good players. We know we can play well and when we're focused we can beat anyone.
Will you be thinking about Jupp Heynckes at the tournament?
Yes I will. He's a wonderful person and a really good coach. He played a huge part in getting us to Morocco.
After such a long and successful year, is it difficult to shift your focus again to the Club World Cup?
We're fully focused and have been professionals for a long time. So far the year has been really good and we want that to continue. When the coach gives us a day off, I still go to the training ground and train by myself in order to stay fit and keep my head in the right place. I need that. When I'm fit, I'm happy out on the pitch.
Is it good to be able to showcase your talents at such a tournament before the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013 is awarded?
Yes of course, but winning the title with the team is more important to me. At the moment I'm fit and very happy. If you win everything on offer, then your chances are higher.
What has made you so good in 2013?
I'm fit and have hardly had any injuries, that's very important. If things stay like that and I can enjoy myself out on the pitch, that'd be great.