'Kaiser Franck' will be in the spotlight for France

MORRIS DALLA COSTA

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

The headlines are usually reserved for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho even guys like David Beckham who have done little to deserve headlines.

Yet one player who is sure to provide legitimate headlines come Euro '08, never gets enough credit for being arguably the best soccer player in the world today.

France's Franck Ribery has been anointed as the next Zinedine Zidane of French football. A relative unknown, Ribery was selected for France's national team for the first time by coach Raymond Domenech for the 2006 World Cup. While Zidane stole the headlines, Ribery was a revelation, scoring in his first start against Spain and providing enormous headaches to opposing teams with his speed and work load.

There is little doubt that Ribery will be the man who drives French fortunes at Euro. He is in tremendous form paired with Italian striker Luca Toni on a Bayern Munich team that is one of the top three teams in the world right now.

Ribery is as far from the matinee-like idols that adorn posters in the world of football. An attacking midfielder or winger, Ribery is a diminutive man with impressive pace and tenacity. At the age of two, he was thrown through the windshield of a car and suffered multiple scars to his face.

Until four years ago, Ribery toiled with third division teams in France. Bayern purchased the 2007 French footballer of the year for approximately $40 million Cdn and it was money well spent.

Toni and Ribery have also fattened Bayern's bank account as central figures in Bayern's merchandising plans.

Ribery is the kind of player people pay money to see. When he scored against Spain to tie the game in the quarter-final game in the World Cup, he ran almost 100 yards to celebrate, freely admitting that he "lost his mind."

He is a free spirit and his ability to control a game has lead to Germans handing him the nickname Kaiser Franck.

The nickname alone is a significant indication of the kind of respect he's earned playing in Germany.

Kaiser is a revered nickname in German football. Der Kaiser was a nickname reserved for Franz Beckenbauer, a footballing legend not only in Germany, but in the world as well.

Size often determines the success or failure of athletes in many sports. Unless you're a jockey or bicycle road racer, bigger is usually better. But soccer defies that. Ribery is no more than five foot, seven inches. He is part of a dominating group of smaller players, among them Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Real Madrid's Robinho and several others who are key elements of their team.

It's Ribery's speed which makes him dangerous and in a tournament like Euro '08, with so many quality teams, speed is the one component which can break down a tight defence. You can't stop what you can't catch.

Ribery will carry the burden of France's success or failure. It will be the first time since 1996 that France will enter a major tournament without Zidane. Ribery will likely move into Zidane's spot and he will be the motor that makes the machine run.

With France embroiled in the toughest group of the tournament with Italy, the Netherlands and Romania, Ribery will have to be very good.

And he will be proving yet again that good things come in small packages.


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