Fiorentina had pretty valid reasons to be annoyed at the manner in which they lost to Lazio on Saturday. The Biancocelesti’s first goal was hardly a penalty and Bartlomiej Dragowski was clearly livid about it throughout the rest of the game. It was easy to see why fans would care more about Lazio’s performance and what it meant in the title race, but a point or a win could’ve essentially confirmed La Viola’s survival in the division.
But one man who seemed on a mission to ensure just that was 37-year-old Franck Ribery. It wasn’t the first time that he dazzled in Gigliati colours, as the Lazio backline often struggled to deal with his pace, precision and his ability to catch them off-guard. Every time the Bayern Munich legend got hold of the ball, he had one thing in mind.
His goal on the night could probably become YouTube content for the ages. He got away from three defenders to slot the ball past Thomas Strakosha at the near post. To many, it is pretty baffling that Ribery can still do all of that at the age of 37, but the truth is that it isn’t the first time that he’s done something like that for La Viola.
When Ribery had arrived at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in the summer of 2019, the move was met with surprised glances and curious thoughts from fans. To many, the real question was whether the former Bayern man could put in the same sort of performances and potentially provide a big boost to a club that was pretty close to going down under Vincenzo Montella last season.
Some others had huge doubts about the Frenchman’s fitness and whether he could play regularly and win them games. Rocco Commisso though, was intent on changing the club’s fortunes and the Frenchman was only one of the splashes that he made in the summer of 2019.
From the very first game of the season though, Ribery has defied many doubters. His very first start for the club came against Juventus and came at a time when Montella’s side was on a winless run of 16 games straight. Montella’s decision to change the formation to the 3-5-2 had Ribery playing in a rather unnatural striker position beside Federico Chiesa.
Fiorentina couldn’t score in that game and the tie ended goalless, but Ribery was one of the best players on the pitch. His movement helped Chiesa thrive and his approach to the game made La Viola look like a real threat on the counter-attack. After the game, Commisso was buzzing about the Frenchman and he even said that Ribery at 36 was better than a younger Cristiano Ronaldo on the night.
The upbeat owner hardly knew that there was better in store for him and Fiorentina fans. The next three games were like a throwback to the time when Ribery was vital in helping Bayern Munich win the Champions League in 2013. He got himself a goal in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Atalanta and then proved crucial to helping Fiorentina end their winless streak, as he grabbed an assist in a 2-1 win over struggling Sampdoria.
Perhaps the most dominant performance came in the inspiring 3-1 win over Milan. Ribery scored a goal and was constantly threatening to do so much more in front of goal. Even for a San Siro that has lost its atmosphere in some ways over the years, Ribery’s performance on the day was enough to force Milan fans to stand up and applaud when the winger was substituted. That was the hallmark of what Ribery has done to Serie A and Fiorentina.
One of Commisso’s purposes in buying Fiorentina was to bring the charm back to a city that has been void of footballing life in recent years. Ribery was part of that plan to get the cheer back and get the fans dreaming again. The season has been a rather inconsistent one, full of disappointing games against smaller clubs and great performances against bigger sides. But Ribery has become one huge reason for promise at the Artemio Franchi.
The ankle ligament injury did derail his progress in Florence. But Ribery has already given Fiorentina fans something to be euphoric about. Business wise, he’s proved to be a good signing as he cost nothing and has delivered the goods when asked to do the job. In that sense, he’s fulfilled his purpose too.
The game against Lazio didn’t yield a win and was embroiled with controversial refereeing once again, but it reminded the world of what Ribery is still capable of. That drop of a shoulder, swivel of the hips and a burst of pace is still very much there despite the pangs of time. As long as it works, fans only need to stand up and applaud him.
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