By Robin Bairner
On Friday, France’s hopes of World Cup success suffered a potentially fatal blow as Franck Ribery was ruled out of the competition after aggravating a back problem.
The Bayern Munich winger was voted as the third-best player on the planet during 2013 and will likely be the headline absentee from Brazil this summer.
Already the competition has been deprived of several stars, including Radamel Falcao, Riccardo Montolivo and Rafael van der Vaart - and there are still some doubts over the fitness of Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
While the news comes as a shock to the outside world after French FA president Noel Le Graet said there was “no danger” of Ribery missing the competition only last Saturday, head coach Didier Deschamps has been considerably more guarded with his rhetoric and even before Friday’s devastating announcement there had been a suspicion in the local media that such a declaration was imminent.
Ribery, it must be said, has not been a favourite in his homeland for several years, owing partly to his off-field troubles, partly due to a perceived lack of team spirit while with the national squad, and partly due to his willingness to express how much more loved he feels by Bayern fans.
In recent times, though, the Boulogne-born star has been one of the few existing players from the World Cup 2010 rebels to successfully begin to transform his image. The dashing winger had started to replicate his club form with Les Bleus and was a central cog in the side that Deschamps had primed to take to Brazil.
The 31-year-old offers France dynamism and quality from the wide areas, a player self-confident enough to carry a weight of expectation, though now seemingly mature enough to know when best to delegate.
It is not simply Ribery’s technical qualities that will be missed. With 81 caps he was easily the most experienced member of a young squad that Deschamps will take to Brazil.
Now the offence is shorn of experience, with only Karim Benzema boasting more than 35 appearances for his country.
Taking the place of Ribery in the starting XI will be Antoine Griezmann, a player who has earned rave reviews with Real Sociedad in La Liga but who remains distinctly untested at the top level, save a brief foray into the Champions League earlier this season. The Basque has only three caps and must bear significant responsibility in France’s attack.
Ironically, though, Ribery made his name at the 2006 World Cup coming in as a similarly raw 23-year-old, also boasting only three caps to his credit.
But for all of Griezmann’s promise, he does not offer the same guarantee of quality as the Bayern Munich attacker, and there can be little doubt that the France side and the World Cup in general will be much the poorer due to Ribery’s pain in the back.