Franck Ribery had a standout year in 2013, lifting the Bundesliga, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and the German Cup in what was practically a clean sweep in terms of trophies. Furthermore, the France forward’s excellent form earned him a spot among the three finalists for the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The former Marseille man gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com just before the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich. “This is all a bit like the Oscars,” he marvelled. Looking at once proud, a tad awestruck and nervous to be part of the occasion, the 31-year-old nevertheless spoke openly about Les Bleus, Bayern, his exceptional year and his strength of character.
FIFA.com: Everything you touched turned to gold in 2013. Was it one of those periods in which you felt invincible?
Franck Ribery: It was. When that happens, when everything starts coming off for you in every match, training session and competition, your confidence begins to soar. Whatever you try, it works, and there comes a point when you say to yourself "Long may it last!"
On that note, do you think doing even better in 2014 is possible?
It will be very difficult. But I don’t sit around asking myself questions; I just keep working hard. I’m committed to what I do and I enjoy it. We have enough strength in depth to replicate what we did last year. But it’s true that 2013 was an extraordinary year for us so topping it will be a really tall order.
What aspects of your experience in Munich can you draw on with France?
I’d say my experience, my maturity. I’m 30 now and I’ve been through a lot in my career. I talk to the younger France players a lot, particularly the lads who haven’t been in that many squads. We represent a big country and the blue shirt can weigh heavy on the shoulders. There’s a lot of pressure and it’s not always easy to deal with. So I try to get the younger players in the best possible frame of mind. You have to make the most of the experience and relish it. Especially since we get together so infrequently.
You have been through some very testing times in your life. Everyone knows your story, especially the car accident during your childhood. Did those experiences make you what you are today?
It’s true – ever since I was born, I’ve been through some tough situations. But that’s what has given me the strength and the drive to succeed. I’m not afraid of anything. That’s also why I’ve always been able to bounce back when things have gotten difficult. I’m very strong mentally. I have a lot of character. I never give in; I always have the drive to keep going and to work hard to achieve my goals.
If you had to pick out one match from your career, which would it be?
That’s a tricky one. All I can say is that the match against Spain at the 2006 World Cup was very emotional for me, but the same was true last year in the Champions League against Barcelona. In fact there are lots of games I got a lot out of, which is a good sign.
What about your favourite goal?
There’s the important goal I scored against Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup: we were 1-0 down and when I equalised that restored the team’s confidence. We went on to win on penalties. Yeah, it was a big goal and a nice finish too – a long-range strike. But I also remember one against [Borussia] Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga: we were losing 3-2 and I scored a fantastic volley. Right after that I set up Arjen Robben for the winner.
Everyone knows you’re very fond of playing pranks: which are you proudest of?
When we tipped a bucket of water over Oliver Kahn! He is such a larger-than-life figure and it was a real pleasure to play alongside him; I have a lot of respect for him. Playing pranks is part of my personality – that’s the way I am. I’m a bit older now and I’m a father, so maybe I don’t joke around as much as I used to, but I still love to have a laugh. When I’m not "messing about" and I don’t have a smile on my face, all is not right with the world.
By being nominated for the Ballon d’Or, you have joined a select list of outstanding players like Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, among others. How does that make you feel?
I’m really flattered. When I think of where I came from and where I am now, it’s incredible. It’s really a delight. Being part of that list of great players is a fantastic feeling.
The next challenge for Les Bleus is the FIFA World CupTM. What are your thoughts about the idea of playing in the world’s biggest tournament in Brazil?
I’m buzzing. We’re delighted to be among the 32 teams who will have the privilege of playing out there. Brazil has had a big influence on the world in general and on football in particular. It will be a real thrill, without a doubt. And in my case, it could be my last World Cup. We’re going to do our utmost to have a good tournament and to give the French fans something to cheer about, which is a big motivation.
What impact has Didier Deschamps had on the team?
He has restored our confidence. He has always found the right words at the right time. I have never felt downbeat, not even after the first leg against Ukraine. We always felt that he believed in us, which boosted us. That’s part of the reason why we were able to pull off such a great performance in the return leg at the Stade de France. I think that match will go down in history: it was an unforgettable moment for everyone in the France squad.
What’s your take on being drawn against Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland in the group stage?
Maybe we didn’t get the most difficult group, but we absolutely cannot afford to take any of the other teams lightly. We have to stay focused. We will have to give it our best shot to get past the first round. It’s vital we do that.