Can Franck Ribéry not have his gold-leaf steak and eat it? | Barney Ronay | Football

In his book This One’s On Me Jimmy Greaves describes the pre-match meals of his playing days in the 1960s. At West Ham it was all down to Moody’s cafe for a full roast dinner and apple crumble for pudding. As an England player Greaves records, with some reverence, the pre-match habits of Gordon Banks, who in line with the sports science of the day would prepare himself for a game with a huge steak served with both boiled and roast potatoes, all washed down with “a large bowl of rice pudding”.

Looking back now it is probably a good thing social media wasn’t around in the mid-60s. It isn’t hard to imagine the wider response to such wanton displays of starch-based excess. Banks Flaunts Roast Riches. Soccer Ace in Boiled AND Roasted Shame. Potato Bae: Gloveman Rocked By Double-Spud storm.

But then, there has always been an obsession with footballers’ consumption, from the days of Scampi dinners and Ford Cortinas, to the obsession with Cristiano Ronaldo’s £2.5m Bugatti, Raheem Sterling’s kitchen sink, Neymar’s fur-lined helicopter gunship, his emerald-studded rocket-unicycle, his ocean-going sex yacht powered entirely by the tears of Martian slaves.

In the last few days it has been the turn of Franck Ribéry, who has spent the last few days on a winter sun training camp in Qatar with Bayern Munich. On a night off last week Ribéry travelled to Dubai for dinner at Nusr-Et, a restaurant run by celebrity butcher Nusret Gokce – also known as Salt Bae in tribute to his “iconic” method of sprinkling seasoning on meat.

Ribéry ate a Tomahawk steak covered in gold dust. We know this because he published a film on Instagram that shows the vast chop being plonked in front of him, gleaming like a prime cut of Aslan-shank. Salt Bae is in shot too, sunglasses on, dressed in his muscle-shirt butcher’s tunic. On cue he drops into an urgent, constipated crouch and begins to slice the Tomahawk, revolving his hands in a series of sensual gestures, gyrating his hips, a man not so much carving meat as energetically feeling it up in the VIP section of an elite celebrity disco.

Franck Ribéry
(@FranckRibery)

No better way to start the year than with a dash of salt and a visit to my Turkish brother 🇹🇷👌🏼 #SaltBae #fr7👑 #ELHAMDOULILLAH🤲🏽♥️ pic.twitter.com/O5ztj4mueq


January 3, 2019

On this occasion Ribéry himself is allowed to perform the ritual of the sprinkling, as Salt Bae crowds close by in voyeuristic approval before finally planting his quivering meat-scimitar into the steak board with a flick of the wrist. Smiles all round and gangster fingers into the camera. And that’s a scene.

At which point, the whole thing pretty much fell apart. “Let’s start with the jealous, the haters, those only born because a condom had a hole in: fuck your mothers, your grandmothers and even your family tree,” Ribéry posted on his social media page at the start of this week, response to a great spurting geyser of personal abuse over his choice of venue, style of steak, lifestyle, religion, and basic extinction as a unit of extreme consumption within the nexus of professional sport.

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Ribéry has since been hit with a “substantial” fine by Bayern for his reaction. Wider reporting of the incident has created a vague, semi-processed picture of just another footballing imbecile waving his underserved millions in the face of consumptive nurses everywhere.

As an anatomy of idiocy on so many levels it is a fairly complete picture, from the inanity of the original tableau, to the confected outrage, to the undeniable weirdness of the basic spectacle.

The first thing to say is, of course, lay off Franck. Overseasoned, overpriced cuts of gold-leaf meat exist because there are sufficient people in the world willing to buy them (Ribéry’s, incidentally, was a gift). Robert Lewandowski did the same thing a few days earlier, producing his own video with Salt Bae frowning down at his meat as though solving some deep maths algorithm, salt bearer offering up his platter as though presenting his own quivering ohmic soul to those gloved fingers.

Nobody seemed to care much on that occasion, but then Lewandowski looks like a super-Aryan James Bond rejected from auditions for the next super-Aryan James Bond for looking too much like a super-Aryan James Bond. He isn’t from the Chemin-Vert sink estate in Boulogne, isn’t a Muslim convert, doesn’t wear street-style fashions, isn’t a convenient piñata for all the rage, the confused material longing that the wider digital public like to hurl at the right kind of footballer on such occasions.

And really if Ribéry’s gold steak tells us anything it is that the key relationship between those who play and those who watch has become fundamentally skewed and toxic. Star footballers tend to be either venerated with a sickly and sensual kind of piety, or relentlessly abused as a cartoon embodiment of all human failings. All of which is justified on the grounds that they’re rich and therefore impossibly blessed, immune to all human anguish, an attitude that says a great deal more about the craven, depressingly deluded veneration of money and celebrity generally.

Alienation, anger, loss of that shared human touch: this is of course just another casualty of football’s decision to turn itself inside out in the name of money, just another gold-leaf chop to be carved apart on the salted board.

Bayern’s presence in Qatar is in itself a cause of some discomfort to the fan base. But then money has done such strange things to this dear old sport, created a peculiar drowned world where you fall at the first hurdle just trying to find the correct moral response, from the political hijacking of the world’s favourite spectacle to the fact any person anywhere can be paid a million pounds a month. Hate the gold-leaf butchery. Hate the grabbing hands at the edges of the game. But don’t hate the player.

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