When Bayern Munich announced the signings of Franck Ribery and Luca Toni on 7 June, few experts reckoned with the impact the French international would have on Germany's most successful club. The Bavarian giants are setting their sporting goals high in the 2007/08 season, chasing three trophies - the Bundesliga and both the German and UEFA Cups. And it looks like they will enjoy economic success too. Certainly it has taken France's 24-year-old star just a few short weeks to make good Bayern's 25 million euro investment.
FIFA.com profiles the player responsible for restoring some of the lost popularity of his new team.
Munich's star-studded team in a celebration of football
Ottmar Hitzfeld's side could hardly have made a more impressive start to the new season. Many experts felt that the veteran coach's rebuilt team would need a settling-in period, but the new players seemed to have gelled quickly and immediately shouldered their responsibilities.
Italy's international Luca Toni, the Turkish talent Hamit Altintop, returning star Ze Roberto and top scorer at the FIFA World Cup, Miroslav Klose, have all made an impact, but it is Franck Ribery who has the look of an international superstar. Team-mates appreciate the Frenchman's humour and off-field pranks, but his stunning performances on the pitch have instantly won him a place in the fans' affections.
No other newcomer to the Bundesliga has made headlines like the slightly-built French international who moved to Bavaria from Olympique Marseille in the summer for a record-breaking 25 million euro.
Ribery gave a foretaste of things to come in the pre-season,
scoring three times in two league cup games against Werder Bremen
and champions VfB Stuttgart, before picking up where he had left
off when the Bundesliga got underway. The unassuming family man
(married to Wahiba and with daughter Hiziya) may have only scored
once in the first four games, but his style of play has captured
the imagination of football fans across the country.
The Frenchman combines excellent technique with natural athleticism, attributes that have drawn admiring glances from the thousands of fans who come to watch the league leaders' daily training sessions. And his team-mates are impressed too. "He's world class," says German international Philipp Lahm. Ottmar Hitzfeld describes him simply as an "outstanding footballer". Even three-time world player of the year, Zinedine Zidane, sees him as the "jewel of French football".
A change of image means new fans
Ribery, who has represented France19 times, brings more than just footballing qualities to Bayern Munich. The season is just a few weeks old, but the Frenchman's off-field presence has already had a positive impact on his new employer's image.
Seen by many as cold and calculating until recently, the club has suddenly become associated with risk-taking, entertainment, enthusiasm and old-fashioned fun. The 70 million euro investment in new players is only partially offset by the 36 million euro income from the summer departures of Owen Hargreaves, Roy Makaay and Roque Santa Cruz. General Manager Uli Hoeness and Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have taken a gamble in investing so dearly at a time when the previous season's failure to secure a place in the UEFA Champions League means that there will be a shortfall of millions for the year to come.
The big wigs at Bayern could not possibly have expected such a quick return on their huge transfer investment. The season started well with all 2,000 business seats sold for the whole season. Membership in the club has risen by 9,500 to 135,000 in a matter of weeks and merchandising sales have risen by 91.4% compared to last year. Unsurprisingly, Franck Ribery's number 7 shirt is one of the best sellers. "Bayern Munich is growing on all fronts," acknowledges the club's great mover and shaker, Uli Hoeness.
Ribery, currently preparing for France's crucial UEFA European Championship qualifying match against Italy this coming Saturday, has committed himself to the German club until 2011 and is an integral part of the "new" Bayern setup. After signing, the player made his goals at the club very clear, saying: "I've come here to win trophies across the board and I will do everything I can to make that happen." And if his early form is anything to go by, it should not be long before that starts to happen.