By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent
PARIS — French national soccer team player Franck Ribery did not notice that his reversion to Islam would steal the limelight at his country’s opener in Germany World Cup 2006 as the attacking midfielder raised his hands and supplicated to God like a typical Muslim before the kickoff.
The 23-year-old Ribery sees his new faith a matter of privacy and dislikes to talk about it in public with many French knowing nothing about his reversion to Islam.
The Olympique Marseille right-sided winger and midfielder has even been reluctant to tell reporters his reversion story, though it is believed that his Muslim wife, of Moroccan origin, played a pivotal role in his new lease of life.
Some reports hinted at his one-year stay in Turkish Galatasaray in 2005 when he helped the team win the 2005 Turkish Cup.
He rarely speaks about how he found the Muslim faith, urging the paparazzi to let him live in peace.
But he recently told the Paris Match magazine that he felt “safe” with Islam.
“Islam is my source of strength either in or outside the playground,” he said.
“I lead a difficult career and I was determined to find peace of mind, and I finally found Islam.”
Ribery’s reversion to Islam was first leaked by L’Express magazine earlier this year, though the weekly did not mention him by name and said that a national team player was used to frequenting a mosque in southern Marseille.
Thousands of French revert to Islam every year in France, but not all of them declare their new faith outright, fearing discrimination at home or work and a stereotypical view that reverts tilt towards extremism, according to recent studies and surveys.
Last March, sources confirmed that former French soccer coach Philippe Troussier and his wife Dominique had reverted to Islam in the Moroccan capital where they live.
Super striker Anelka, who played for Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City, eventually had to leave for the Turkish league after increasing harassment.
France is home to some six to seven million Muslims, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.
Steve Bradore of Shehada organization, which caters for Muslim reverts, said that French Muslims must be proud of Ribery.
“He is really a source of pride for us due his unique performance and modesty,” he told IslamOnline.net Saturday, June 17.
Ribery is tipped to succeed playmaker legend and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane, who said he will quit football at the end of the World Cup.
He started his playing career at his home town club US Boulogne and then moved to Alès, Brest and FC Metz in consecutive seasons.
His move to Olympique Marseille has earned him top French player honors for the months of August, October and November 2005. He was selected for the France squad for the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany.
France’s opener with Switzerland at the World Cup ended goalless to the disappointment of the French people.
The French team will play on Sunday, June 18, with South Korea, which is a virtual must-win fixture for the 1998 World Cup winners if they are to cruise square two.
The Koreans top Group G ahead after the 2-1 win over Togo.