PARIS (Reuters) - A wonder goal and a bizarre TV appearance wearing flip flops are the two lasting images Franck Ribery leaves behind following his retirement from international football.
The 31-year-old winger burst into the limelight as a carefree player when he scored a lightning quick goal against Spain in the 2006 World Cup.
Four years later the once golden boy of French soccer appeared to have turned into a playground tyrant.
At the 2010 World Cup, Ribery was at the forefront of the French players’ mutiny in support of striker Nicolas Anelka, who had been kicked out of the squad for insulting then coach Raymond Domenech.
His schoolboy humour had been replaced by a bullying mentality and his reputation suffered badly as France were knocked out in the first round and Ribery was handed a three-match ban for his role in the Knysna controversy.
That incident capped his annus horribilis as shortly before the World Cup in South Africa, he was questioned as part of an investigation into a prostitution ring in Paris.
After the tournament, Ribery and others were charged with having sex with an underage prostitute, only for the charges to be dropped in January this year.
The scandal, however, got Ribery’s World Cup off on the wrong foot and the infamous players’ strike did not do much to change his badly tarnished image, especially after he gatecrashed France’s biggest TV show wearing a pair of shorts and flip flops.
“Since Euro 2008 I have been suffering in this France team, every time we join the squad there are problems,” Ribery said.
On his Stade de France comeback after his ban, Ribery was booed by sections of the crowd while others chanted his name, illustrating his capacity to stir mixed emotions.
At Euro 2012, Ribery was the best player in an average team, but it was only when Didier Deschamps took over as coach from Laurent Blanc that he rediscovered the carefree attitude of the man who once dumped a bucket of water over Bayern great Oliver Kahn for fun.
“Coach Deschamps gave me back my desire and my freshness,” Ribery told daily Le Figaro last year. “I can play freely. Sometimes I have the carefreeness I had in 2006. Something clicked with Deschamps.”
Ribery’s attitude demonstrates how he has flourished on and off the pitch and he inspired Bayern Munich to a Bundesliga-German Cup-Champions League treble in 2012-13.
He was voted UEFA’s Best Player in Europe for 2013 but it was not enough to clinch FIFA’s Ballon d‘Or trophy as the world’s best player, a disappointment he quickly put behind him after finishing third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
A top-notch display at this year’s World Cup in Brazil could have helped him claim the award.
Instead, Ribery, who scored 16 goals in 81 appearances with Les Bleus, never fulfilled his huge potential on the international stage after missing the tournament due to injury.
France overcame his loss to achieve a decent run at the World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals playing fine football before losing to eventual champions Germany.
Ribery’s exit at last saves Deschamps from having to choose between the mercurial winger’s individual qualities and the French team’s collective attacking strength without their most talented player.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar