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'Like bringing Maradona to Naples' - Ribery already crowned 'King of Salerno' after shock Salernitana transfer

09:00 BST 08/09/2021
Ribery-Salernitana GFX
The Bayern Munich legend has sparked pandemonium in Salerno by signing a one-year contract with the city's newly-promoted club

CR7 may be gone but FR7 is back!

And, remarkably, Franck Ribery has sparked an even greater level of hysteria in Salerno than we witnessed in Turin when Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus from Real Madrid three years ago.

Ecstatic Salernitana fans began buying shirts with the Frenchman's name on the back before his free transfer had even been confirmed, prompting a threat of legal action from the club, who sternly reminded everyone that Granata merchandise can only be bought from official outlets.

Then, there was a punch-up between two fans before Ribery's unveiling at the Stadio Arechi on Tuesday afternoon, after one man, who was reportedly carrying a knife, bizarrely began insulting Salernitana sporting director Angelo Fabiani, who made this shock deal happen.

The majority of the 10,000 people present, though, were simply caught somewhere between joy and disbelief. After all, when Ribery was inspiring Bayern Munich to a historic treble in 2013, Salernitana were still in the fourth tier of Italian football.

He may no longer be the player that once shared a Ballon d'Or podium with Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, while the Campania outfit may have just secured a return to Serie A for the first time in 23 years.

However, this is a truly stunning transfer, even if Fabiani may have got a little carried away when he claimed that Salernitana signing Ribery was "like [Napoli] bringing Diego Maradona to Naples" all the way back in 1984.

Nobody saw this coming, not least because Ribery had other options. 

Medhi Benatia was hoping to convince his former Bayern team-mate to join him at Turkish Super Lig outfit Fatih Karagumruk, while Verona and Torino were also interested.

It was Salernitana, though, who managed to convince Ribery to continue his career at the Stadio Arechi, handing the 38-year-old a season-long deal worth €1.5 million (£1.3m/$1.8m). 

Fabiani, though, insisted that money wasn't the determining factor in the deal.

"You can tell the measure of the man in the fact he wasn’t discussing the salary so much as asking about the city, seeing the beauty of Salerno and also watching a few of our games," he explained. "Maybe he was convinced by seeing a club that is developing its football over the last few years."

Ribery will certainly feel he made the right choice after being given a royal welcome by delirious Salernitana supporters, with the Corriere dello Sport claiming that he has already been crowned 'The King of Salerno'!

"Negotiations didn’t take long," he explained at his unveiling. "I spoke to Fabiani in a video conference and he transmitted all his motivation. And I felt the fans’ love even before arriving.

“I already feel at home. It’s like I’ve been here for two or three years already. I am feeling well, but I am not here to have fun. I still have a lot to prove."

Not to football fans in general, but maybe to Fiorentina.

The driving force behind Ribery's decision to remain in Serie A, rather than make a more lucrative move to the Middle East or Asia, is widely believed to be his desire to show his previous employers that they made a mistake in letting him go.

Certainly, Ribery was distinctly unimpressed with the way in which he parted company with the Viola. He made no secret of the fact that he would have liked to have spent a third season in Florence and claims that the club allowed his contract to expire without any contact whatsoever.

"Nobody called me and this means that I've been shown a little lack of respect," he told Toscana TV. "But I never wanted to speak badly about anyone, least of all the club. 

"It's a shame to not have continued, but life is like this, and so is football."

Consequently, he is now looking forward to a new challenge. And it will be a challenge.

Salernitana have lost their first two games of the new Serie A season, conceding seven goals in the process.

Unsurprisingly for a newly-promoted side, Fabrizio Castori's squad lacks top-flight quality. However, they have made some decent summer signings, including Matteo Ruggeri, Joel Obi, Federico Bonazzoli and Simy.

The acquisition of the latter was quite the coup for Salernitana, given the Nigeria international hit an impressive 20 Serie A goals for Crotone last season.

Of course, the hope now is that Ribery's trickery will enable Simy to prove just as prolific this term, and there's no denying that the former France international retains his fantastic ability to create space and pick a pass.

Ribery may have 'only' five goals and nine assists in 50 appearances for Fiorentina but those are not bad numbers in a struggling side.

It's also worth remembering that he often impressed against stronger opposition, most notably against Inter and AC Milan last season, and that former Fiorentina stars such as Sebastian Frey and Luca Toni were both upset to see Ribery leave the Artemio Franchi during the summer.

As Frey told Radio Toscana, "I don't think that there's anyone better placed than Ribery to help with the growth of the young players at Fiorentina."

Salernitana will now be counting on Ribery having just as positive an effect on their inexperienced squad.

He and his family may be moving to the Amalfi coast but Ribery clearly isn't looking at this transfer as a glorified holiday and, if he manages to help the club avoid relegation, his contract will be extended for another year.

But this move really does seem to be about more than financial considerations.

"I live for football," Ribery told reporters on Tuesday. "If I lived for money, I wouldn’t be here."

With statements like that, it's easy to understand why Salernitana fans have already taken him into their hearts.

This may not be an eternal love affair akin to Maradona and Naples, but if Tuesday is anything to go by, Ribery and Salerno should prove quite the passionate romance.