Desmond Kane

Frankly Franck, Ronaldo could be the greatest player of all time

Franck Ribery remains a fabulous footballer. Many have been aware of Ribery’s talent as a winger for many years with clubs such as Metz, Galatasaray, Marseille and the French national side. Many years before this burgeoning calendar year came to a burnished fruition representing the all-conquering Bayern Munich.

Ribery has been a key component of Bayern's rise to the Champions League, the Bundesliga, German Cup and European Super Cup over 12 gilded months.

He scored last night in Bayern's 3-0 win over the Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the Club World Cup semi-final against a team coached by Marcello Lippi. Hosted by the Moroccan city of Agadir, the "match" resembled a training session rather than a credible contest such is the difference in class between European and Asian football at the elite levels.

Not that we needed one, but Ribery produced a timely reminder of why he has been nominated for the Ballon d'Or alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. His was a telling contribution against a team of limited triers. Bayern are one step away from an astonishing fifth major trophy of 2013.

With a match against Atletico Minerio or Raja Casablanca in Saturday's final, this vintage Bayern unit will surely depart Morocco victorious after Saturday's final.

It has tended to be this way for Ribery under learned Bayern coaches in Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola, but his role in Bayern’s bewitching year should not blind us to the light of a greater truth.

Despite his work ethic, flair and influence on Bayern, it does not make Ribery the outstanding candidate for FIFA's world player of the year award. There are different levels of greatness in football just like there are varied levels of nobility in life. Having a great year with a great team is different from being one of football’s all-time great players.

For some reason, perhaps known only to himself, Ribery seems to think that he should be rewarded for his form with the moniker of the world’s best. Ribery has already stated his disappointment with his France team-mate Mamadou Sahko's decision to endorse Ronaldo ahead of the prize-giving ceremony in Zurich on January 13.

"Sakho disappointed me," said Ribery of the Liverpool defender. "He disappointed me about what he said recently. Anyway, that's how it is in football. He gave his opinion. This is life. It's not a serious issue."

It would be fair to say Ribery would not have taken to a similar viewpoint aired by Argentina's 1986 World Cup winner Diego Maradona yesterday. "Personally, I hope Messi wins the trophy, but I have to admit that Cristiano Ronaldo deserves it," said Maradona.

Ribery has apparently made room for the Ballon d’Or on his mantelpiece at home while Ronaldo has opened a museum back in his home town of Funchal to honour his sporting magnificence. He says there is room for a second Ballon d’Or to go with the one he won at Manchester United in 2008. Somebody with a healthy ego is going to be disappointed.

Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 games for United, posting some searing figures. He unearthed 42 goals in helping United to the Premier League and Champions League five years ago.

This year, Ronaldo has scored 68 goals in 58 games for Real Madrid and Portugal.

Ribery is hardly the poor relation with 23 goals from 53 games with 20 assists. Bizarrely enough, it seems only Messi who is not making any plans to extend his Ballon collection having carried it off over the past four years. He has 45 goals in 46 games over the past 12 months, but a year blighted by injury appears to leaves him as the outsider.

Comparing the merits of Ronaldo and Ribery in their joust to snare world football's most cherished individual prize is an unfair comparison. Ronaldo is a wonderful individual; Ribery is a great team player.

Deep down Guardiola would probably have Messi or Ronaldo in his Bayern side before any other player. That includes Ribery. That is not a slight on the Frenchman. The hat-trick Ronaldo scored for Portugal against Sweden in Stockholm last month to send his side to the World Cup finals was the type of theatre reserved purely for genius.

There are things Ronaldo can do on a park that elevates him to levels that cannot be judged in months, but items of beauty that should be looked upon favourably decades from now. Similar moments are reserved for Messi.

Unfortunately for Ribery and others like him, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez, we are living in times of two of the very best attacking players the world game has witnessed.

The names of Ronaldo and Messi not only belong in line for the Ballon d'Or. They belong alongside Maradona and Brazil's Pele as football's most celebrated performers. There is a debate to be had about which is the greatest of that quartet. Ronaldo and Messi may already be the best of the lot. Opportunity knocks for those two in Brazil next summer.

On the cusp of a World Cup year, we should all rejoice in the various skill levels of Ronaldo, Messi and Ribery while being aware of life’s natural order.

The Club World Cup is a fairly useless competition, certainly in comparison to Bayern's joyful experience in the Champions League. Just like this year's Ballon d'Or will be if Ronaldo is not successful.