Why the Premier League needs Franck Ribéry
The January transfer window has been part of the Premier League season since 2003, so we know the drill by now: fevered speculation and far less action.
In 2008, then-Reading boss Steve Coppell spoke for many when he described the window's "fire-sale mentality" as good only for causing "unrest". This concession of one last opportunity in a season for salvation or a push for the finish line tends to give rise to inflated prices, a climate of panic and poor purchases. It's the last refuge of the desperate.
There are exceptions, of course, when an opportunity simply presents itself to a club. Andrei Arshavin has proved to be as close to a bargain as could be hoped for in modern times, and the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor or Christophe Dugarry are all similar examples of January-signed successes.
A particularly tasty bit of business for one lucky club now seems to be coming into view. On New Year's Eve, Alain Migliaccio stated that his client would not be renewing his contract with Bayern Munich. At the start of December, Bayern president Uli Hoeness had said it was out of the question that he would allow the situation to reach the point where they "lose 50 or 60 million euros". Franck Ribery himself has said that he wants his future sorted before the World Cup.
With his contract up in summer 2011, Bayern have just this window and next to sell Ribéry if they want to recoup any reasonable fee for him. And, of all the world stars constantly linked with the Premier League's finest - Villa, Silva, Agüero etc - Ribéry would be the most suited.
When he first began to register on a national level in his home country in 2006, Ribéry was trumpeted as the 'new Zidane'. In reality, the two Frenchmen could scarcely be more different. While Zizou muttered and mumbled his way through press conferences in the manner of an awkward teenager, Ribéry has presented TV specials at home in France and has a reputation as the Bayern dressing-room joker.
Last season, he commandeered the team bus after a game only to reverse it into a lamppost. Ribéry and his predecessor as France team talisman are chalk and cheese on the pitch, too. Watching Zidane in action was like watching ballet - poise, grace and balance, with his every touch seeming like an event in itself. In contrast, Ribéry is a ball of dizzying movement, driving France and Bayern forward with his energy.
The relationship between the two is one thing that could scupper Ribéry's arrival in England. In his advisory role at Real Madrid, Zidane could yet persuade his compatriot that his future lies at the Bernabéu.
This is no lazy exercise in compatriot-based join-the-dots, as was the case when some suggested Karim Benzema had chosen Spain ahead of England because of Zidane - the relationship between the two is cold, and Benzema recently admitted he and Zidane had not spoken since his arrival at the club. There is much mutual respect between Ribéry and Zizou despite their divergent characters.
The two have discussed the possibility of Ribéry's arrival on more than one occasion at Florentino Pérez' behest and the Bayern man has not been unreceptive to these advances. The fact that the young Brazilian Marcelo, no longer trusted at left-back, is currently being used wide on the left of midfield - Ribéry's preferred position - may suggest that the post is being kept warm for the arrival of Ribéry.
With this in mind, if a Premier League club is to snare Ribéry, there can be no hanging about. It would be a tremendous boost to the competition, even if the cries of it being deposed by La Liga on the back of Real Madrid's summer splurge are exaggerated. The fact remains that Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has had an impact, as have Benzema and Kaká's decisions to choose Spain ahead of England. The Premier League's global success is built on its breathless, high-impact style, but also on the global stars, the best of whom - Henry, Torres, Drogba - manage to combine its physical characteristics with a high level of technique. Ribéry is an excellent candidate to replicate this success.
All of the leading clubs would almost certainly welcome him with open arms. Manchester United were never going to find a direct replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, who fulfilled so many different roles in the side, but his absence means Sir Alex Ferguson is a touch too reliant on Wayne Rooney for craft in the final third, with Gabriel Obertan still a work-in-progress and question marks remaining over Dimitar Berbatov. Liverpool's dearth of creativity at times this season, meanwhile, has been such that the admirable Yossi Benayoun, previously viewed a squad player, has become key to Rafa Benitez' hopes, particularly when Steven Gerrard has been marginalised. Merseyside hopes of a player of Ribéry's wit arriving are such that hopeful rumours sighting the Frenchman in Liverpool chip shops (!) abounded last summer.
Arsenal may prefer a striker, but Ribéry could provide the attacking aggression that they lack. Maybe even Manchester City, with Craig Bellamy's form excellent but his fitness always brittle, and Robinho's future uncertain, could find a place in their line-up for Boulogne's favourite son. Yet leaders Chelsea seem the most likely. Their squad is the dictionary definition of solid, but their lack of a 'magic' player, a player who can break open a game with a moment of inspiration - especially with Joe Cole struggling to recover his best form - remains a worry.
The last player who looked like he could fill this role at Stamford Bridge was Arjen Robben, the brilliant but frustratingly fragile winger whose expensive arrival at the Allianz Arena in August could yet precipitate his team-mate's departure. Carlo Ancelotti's mature group looks good now, but 30-something players can turn from linchpins to liabilities in a flash at the top level, and the coach is playing a dangerous game relying too heavily on them. So come on, Carlo - it's time to vote Francky.