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From Ballon d'Or contender to struggler: Ribery needs to step up his game at World Cup

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LONDON - Less than six months ago, Franck Ribery's name was being mentioned in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Following a tremendous season with Bayern Munich, the France winger was one of the three finalists for the Ballon d'Or — football's top award.

Ribery lost, Ronaldo won.

Since then, Ribery's form has dropped so much that it is now causing concern in the French camp. With the World Cup in Brazil looming, Ribery is a shadow of the player who terrorized defenders throughout last season.

Once hailed as Zinedine Zidane's heir, Ribery was a key element in Bayern's treble-winning campaign in 2013, causing havoc in opposing defences with his devastating dribbles and bursts of speed.

Ribery was rewarded with UEFA's award for the best player in Europe, beating Messi and Ronaldo to the prize by a large margin. He then scored as Bayern won the UEFA Super Cup at the expense of Chelsea, and had a fine start to the season under new coach Pep Guardiola despite a new system and style brought in by the former Barcelona tactician.

The Ballon d'Or changed everything.

Ribery seemed deeply affected by the poll result and has yet to recover from his disappointment. He scored only four goals in 2014 as Bayern successfully defended its Bundesliga title, and he struggled to make an impact in the two disappointing matches against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals.

"It's hard for a sensitive player like him not to win the Ballon d'Or after winning the treble," former Bayern captain Oliver Kahn said. "But you should be able to move on at some stage. It shouldn't be about Ribery; it should be about Bayern."

Ribery, who also struggled with some minor injuries this season, ended up making only 22 appearances in 34 Bundesliga games, nine of those involving substitutions.

Although his recent criticisms of Guardiola's rotation policy won't help his case, Ribery remains a fan favourite in France, which he helped reach the World Cup final in 2006 following a meteoric rise to fame that year.

Four years after that run to the final, Ribery's image was badly tarnished when he and striker Karim Benzema were accused of soliciting an underage prostitute. Ribery then received a three-match ban from the French football federation for his perceived leading role during a training strike at the World Cup in South Africa, with France getting eliminated in the first round.

Ribery and Benzema were acquitted in the prostitution case earlier this year after a French judge ruled there wasn't enough proof.

Along with Benzema, Ribery is the star of Didier Deschamps' squad for this year's World Cup, but his dipping form is worrying to some.

In an interview with the Laureus academy on Friday, former France great Marcel Desailly reproached Ribery for his lack of leadership and goals for the national team.

"He has scored only 10 goals this year while the records of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, (Luis) Suarez, (Edinson) Cavani or (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic are huge," Desailly said. "Even if he's a winger, we are really expecting him to score and to be a really important player for the team, who makes the difference."

Desailly called on Ribery to show more consistency, especially when playing for his country.

"He is a great player, one of the top three players that we have today in Europe," Desailly said. "But we are a bit disappointed. He has not positioned himself as a leader of the French national team. He is just one of the players, while we are expecting him to be the real leader, like Zidane was. He has not delivered our expectation."

Desailly, who won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Les Bleus, made 116 international appearances for France before quitting international football in 2004.

"The fact that he did not win the Ballon d'Or may make him understand that you need to have something extra," Desailly added. "Then maybe the performance that he will deliver during the World Cup will allow him to go to a different level again."

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