Fellow Frenchmen back Ribery over sex scandal
Entertainers, sportsmen and politicians back the brilliant footballer who slept with an underage prostitute
At last, there's something to smile about for Franck Ribery. The 27-year-old Frenchman, one of international football's most gifted wingers, helped his club, Bayern Munich, to a 3-1 victory against Bochum on Saturday, a win that hands them the German league title.
Ribery was in need of some good news after a month from hell. On April 17 he was named as one of three French footballers alleged to have had paid sex with the enticing mademoiselle Zahia Dehar. Not only is Ribery married and a father of two young children, but his dangerous liaison with Dehar was said to have taken place when she was 17; under French law it is illegal to pay a prostitute for sex if she is under 18.
Four days after the scandal erupted Ribery was sent off while playing for Bayern against Lyon in the semi-final of the Champions League. UEFA deemed his tackle on Lisandro Lopez so wild that they suspended Ribery from this month's final against Inter Milan.
But that sentence is trifling in comparison to what awaits Ribery if he is charged and convicted with underage sex - a jail term of up to three years and a fine of €45,000. It's believed that the investigating judge won't decide whether to proceed with the case until after next month's World Cup.
Not that that seems to have taken the heat off Ribery. It's already being reported that the controversy has scuppered his purported lucrative move to Real Madrid. The club had been linked with the Frenchman for several weeks but, according to the Spanish sports daily Marca, Real have been "warned off almost definitely".
At least Franck isn't alone in disgracing the Ribery name. His younger brother, Francois, faces the prospect of being locked up for four months for his alleged part in a fracas outside a Boulogne nightclub last year that left a man with serious head injuries. Ribery junior, who plays for the amateur side Touquet, will discover his fate next week when the judge delivers his verdict.
Meanwhile, reports in the French press suggest that Madame Franck Ribery, the French-Algerian Wahiba (for whom Ribery converted to Islam when they married in 2002) will stand by her man, despite the humiliation. "It hurt my family, above all those close to me," Ribery acknowledged at the weekend, speaking publicly for the first time about the scandal.
But it doesn't seem to have affected Ribery's standing within France, where sexual shenanigans are viewed less seriously than in the Anglophone world. Alain Souchon, one of the country’s most famous entertainers, said recently: "Every man in his life is going to visit a whore one time, that's how it is". And Souchon scoffed at the idea that Ribery’s wife might be upset, saying: "She should understand that it's nothing serious."
Yannick Noah, the former tennis star turned pop singer, agreed that a private life is exactly that, private. "If we're going to start looking into everyone's closet I'd prefer we didn't look in mine," he said. "We've all got skeletons in our closet."
And even in the political world the overwhelming view is one of support for Ribery, with Immigration Minister Eric Besson calling on the press to lay off the footballer. "He has the right, like every citizen... to be entitled to the presumption of innocence," said Besson, sentiments echoed by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Green party, who dismissed the story as trivial, saying: "It's been well known for a long time that footballers visit brothels."
As for the woman herself, the delectable Dehar is holed up in a villa on the Cote d'Azur considering her next move. Having already sold her exclusive story to Paris Match, in which she memorably described herself as "Ribery's birthday present", the Algerian-born beauty is now being courted by France's most famous producer of porn, Marc Dorcel, famous for such gems as 'Hot Sex in Saint Tropez' and 'Wicked Weapon'.
Dorcel is planning to shoot a football-based porn film and sees Dehar as the perfect lead. "It's an open invitation... she fits into our future plans and she also has the right image for us," said Dorcel. "I hope she will accept."
But while Dehar's career options look good, the prospects for her alleged clients aren't so rosy. With Ribery and fellow French internationals Sidney Govou and Karim Benzema already implicated in the scandal, rumours are rife that investigators will shortly announce the names of two more men said to have enjoyed the charms of the teenage temptress.
One is apparently another well-known footballer and the other a respected French football journalist who, presumably, was mixing business with pleasure.