The date was 19th November 2005. While this date comes around once every year, what was unfolding at the Santiago Bernabeu probably hasn’t happened since that very day.
Thousands of Real Madrid fans were applauding a Barcelona player. A player who was more of a magician than a player. Ronaldinho had scored what people back in his hometown might call ‘golazo’ and that had brought every fan on the pitch to his feet, despite the home side losing 3–0. If they weren’t applauding, there was probably a sense of admiration. If there was silence, it was a resignation to defeat to the magician.
Franck Ribery’s performance at the San Siro against Milan three weeks ago was reminiscent of all this. It was a different context and a different competition but the Rossoneri faithful were on their feet to applaud Ribery when the Frenchman was substituted late in the game; such was the brilliance of the display from the 36-year-old.
He often went past players like they weren’t there. Milan were certainly abject on the day as even their fans turned against them but it would be unfair to use that as a means of taking credit away from Ribery.
The best move saw Ribery start a dribble from close to the halfway line. He went past 2/3 Milan defenders like it was 2013 all over again. His resulting shot was saved by Gigio Donnarumma but Ismael Bennacer tripped the charging Federico Chiesa to hand Fiorentina the penalty. The spot-kick was dispatched by summer signing Erick Pulgar.
Since arriving on a free transfer, Ribery has been sparkling. He has formed a dangerous trio with Federico Chiesa and Gaetano Castrovilli and has provided big impetus to the careers of two emerging young stars. Not just that, but his ability to play as a false nine has given Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina a renewed identity. A proper playing style.
Against the likes of Sampdoria, Atalanta and even Juventus, Ribery always posed a threat. He looked to take defenders on and beat them. He has been key to not just helping Fiorentina snap their 18 game winless run. He has been a huge contributing factor to help them embark on a five-game unbeaten run in the league.
What he has done to the club can’t be counted or ascertained by his tally of one goal and two assists.
La Viola have often looked like a unit – a hardworking one. They look cohesive when defending, with Ribery and Chiesa disallow teams from building from the back by constantly cutting out passing lanes by coming deeper like proper false nines. They help in winning the ball high up the pitch and use their pace to run at their defence.
Ribery brings a winning mentality to the plate like no one else. He very well is Fiorentina’s version of Juventus signing Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite having suffered multiple injuries over the last 10-12 months, he has played 5-6 games in a row and looks fully fit. Even Montella himself recently sounded his surprise at how Ribery has played five games in a row. A day later, the former Marseille man started against Udinese.
Few expected Ribery to make as much impact as a free agent as Diego Godin or Miguel Veloso but he has proven them wrong. The very fact that he came for free is such a coup for La Viola. He has given them an identity not just in terms of playing style either.
He has brought the global attention back to the Florence-based side many years after Montella guided them to multiple top-four finishes and decades after Batigol did it. People know about the club and him playing well is even better for Fiorentina’s global image.