To say the French national team has been in a state of flux over the last four years may be a gross misrepresentation of the facts. However, there has been one constant throughout any of the turmoil, and that’s been the steady play of one Franck Ribery. The French were counting on his goal scoring to put them deep in the tournament, however he won’t be making the trip to Brazil thanks to a reoccurrence of a back injury.
According to a report out of The Daily Mail in the UK, Ribery re-injured the back once again in training on Thursday and was replaced in the French 23-man roster by uncapped Morgan Schneiderlin.
More than anything else that should tell you how deeply France will miss Ribery’s presence at this World Cup. When you are forced to replace your best attacking option with someone who’s never seen the pitch for the national team, there is clearly a huge void to attempt to be filled.
However, French manager Didier Deschamps may have summed up Ribery’s importance to this squad best.
“With Franck Ribery at 100 per cent, we are better. But we have to be ambitious and we will continue to be,” said Deschamps to The Daily Mail.
Ribery wasn’t named the fourth-beset player in the world by The Guardian (in 2013) for nothing. After moving on from French side Marseille in 2007, Ribery’s career has taken off at Bayern Munich. He’s flourished in his attacking role, scoring 63 goals in 178 appearances for the giants of Munich.
However, his value to the French side over his career has been less about scoring goals and more about making those around him better. In 63 appearances for France, Ribery has just 10 goals. He does have plenty of assists to his name and is the one person everyone on the team looks to as a leader.
That’s where things could get interesting for the French. Losing a talisman and leader of a squad just days before a competition begins is tough to deal with. France has to find a way to rally and build a squad capable of playing attacking soccer without Ribery in the lineup.
What helps France deal with this devastating blow to its plans is that they play in a group that isn’t full of top-level teams. Getting out of Group with Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland looked like it could be a simple task before Ribery’s injury. As long as they can get wins over Ecuador and Honduras, the French will make it out of the group with ease.
However, beyond the group stage is where things get difficult. Should France be able to sweep its group (no easy task with a tough Switzerland squad present), they will face the second-place team from Group F.
Without Franck Ribery, France need to make sure to top Group E, or a date with a scary-good Argentina squad is likely to await them.
Given France’s disastrous form and shameful player behavior at the 2010 World Cup, there is a lot of pressure on this group to make up for it all. There’s even more public pressure given the fact that Deschamps left star Manchester City forward Samir Nasri off the provisional squad all together.
Nasri would’ve been a perfect fit in Ribery’s role for Les Bleues. His attacking form at City was there all season, but it appears a personal dust up or two over the last few years saw Deschamps leave him out of the squad and ineligible to replace Ribery altogether.
It could be that one decision that is now the difference between a deep run at this World Cup and a disappointing appearance for a squad full of potential. The only good news is that France will have some time to gel the squad in Brazil and get things going in training.
If the French can do that, and avoid a round of 16 clash with Argentina, the sky is still the limit for Les Bleues. However, as we’ve seen in just about every World Cup, there are surprise (both good and bad) teams and France has the squad capable of going far or completely flaming out once again.
What is guaranteed is that Ribery’s World Cup career is done, as he announced in late May that he would make this World Cup his last for the French national team. Missing out on the event is not only bitter for the player, but it could be costly for a team under immense pressure back home.