Among the many pleasures of the tournament, Franck Ribéry ranks high on my list. Even yesterday, in the loss to Spain, I thought he was the only French player who would not let go of the bone. On the flip side, has there been a more disappointing player in this tournament than Karim Benzema? No, there has not—not by a long shot, and not even by the vast span of inaccuracy that accompanied his long shots, which were basically the only shots he had.
Did the French ever complete a series of passes equivalent in its tumbling length to that previous sentence? No, they did not. But you can get by with a few passes if you have someone who can score. The problem for France is that they had absolutely nobody who could score, and only one player who was interested in working hard. That player was Franck Ribéry (insert “score” joke here) and his relentlessness was fantastic to watch. (I’ll give Mathieu Debuchy, the other hustler, second in the actually trying category, Lloris third, because how much can you really expect from a keeper? The list ends around there.) Benzema, on the other hand, seemed exhausted in every game but the first, completely deflated and disinterested. To be fair (that is, to pretend to be fair), three games in just over a week is grueling.
Okay, that was me pretending to be fair. Benzema was useless. He seemed to be playing with the foreknowledge that all was lost, that there was no chance to why risk injury or, for that matter, a heart rate above the “fat burner” mode on the Stairmaster. There’s a debate to be had as to whether Ribéry should have been moved inside, especially since Benzema was worthless, so the point of Ribéry scooting down the left so that he could distribute to him was invalidated. Yes, Ribéry plays on the left side at Bayern, and has mentioned how much he loves the position. And yes, it isn’t easy or necessarily a good idea to switch a left wing to the middle. (Example A: Gareth Bale.) And he’s 5’ 7”, so he’s not going to win many balls in the air. But he often seemed to be the only Frenchman with ball control skills, as well the philosophical awareness that if you lose the ball, there is a chance that if you run you might get it back again. The philosophy of his teammates seemed closer to “Being and Nothingness”: I’ll being nothing. So why not move Ribéry to the middle and see if it would at least make his teammates think, even if that thought was, “What is he doing there?”
Okay, that was me pretending to have an idea about what possibly could have been done to improve things. But perhaps they were not to be improved. Once again we had a French team that was fractious, dull and without real threat. They weren’t disgraceful in the sense that they were in 2010; that French squad was the most embarrassing I’d ever seen, partly because they actually had potential. That time, Ribéry was part of the problem. This time, he was the only thing that suggested a solution.