Michael Ballack is a midfielder for Germany and Chelsea in the English Premier League. He is a classic box-to-box midfielder who can be relied upon to create chances from nothing with his killer through-balls. He has a fantastic shot, and has a never-say-die attitude that makes him a great leader, for both Germany (where he is captain) and Chelsea.
Michael Ballack was born on 26 September 1976 in Gorlitz, on the Germany-Poland border in East Germany. His father was a professional footballer, and obviously passed on his love for football to a young Michael, who was noted for being able to control the ball equally comfortably with either foot. From the age of 7 he was signed up to the Karl-Marx-Stadt (now FC Chemnitz) academy, even though it was a two hour commute twice a week!
Two months before his 19th birthday, Michael Ballack signed professional forms for Chemnitzer, and immediately joined the first team. He made his debut in the first match of the season, and went on to make 15 appearances as the club were relegated.
With their best players leaving, Ballack was given his chance as the regular central-midfielder, and took it with both hands. He scored 10 goals in 30 games, not bad for a midfielder though admittedly against poor opposition in the German third division. He had been watched carefully from the stands by Otto Rehagel, who took him to the Bundesliga with newly-promoted Kaiserslautern.
A successful stint as substitute midfielder saw Ballack celebrating winning the Bundesliga in 1998, as a member of the first promoted team to ever win the League title in their first season at the top. Ballack became a first-team regular for Kaiserslautern, and was gaining vital experience in the Champions League – he didn’t look out of place playing against some of Europe’s best.
A move to Bayer Leverkusen saw Ballack transformed into an attacking midfielder, with Michael allowed to give up on too much tracking back in order to play in ‘the hole’ behind the strikers. Effective though this was, Ballack was only instrumental in helping Leverkusen to three consecutive runners-up spots in the league and a loser’s medal in the 2002 Champions League Final.
With a will to win trophies Ballack decided to move on. He joined Leverkusen’s main rivals Bayern Munich, and went on to win the league 3 times out of four. Michael became one of Felix Magath’s ‘untouchables’ and led the team brilliantly from the front. Having achieved all he could in Germany, Ballack looked for an opportunity abroad when his contract with the German Champions ran out, and was offered astronomical amounts of money to sign for some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Michael Ballack signed for Chelsea on a Bosman free transfer in May 2006, and made his debut in the first game of the season in August. He had been expected to move to Real Madrid or Manchester United, where he would better fit into their creative systems, but instead chose to join Jose Mourinho’s Premier League champions. Ballack’s first season was considered a success, but he was in direct competition for a place in the team with fan-favourite Frank Lampard.
Ballack missed the 2007 FA Cup Final (which Chelsea won in extra-time) and the start of the 2007/08 season because of an ankle injury that required surgery. He returned to his best form in December 2007, and was part of the team that narrowly missed out on the Carling Cup, Premier League and Champions League trophies – finishing runner up in all three.
Michael Ballack first joined the international set-up as a skinny 20 year old, playing for the U-21s in 1996. Following his move to the Bundesliga, he was able to command a place in the full national squad, making his debut in April 1999. He was included in Germany’s Euro 2000 squad, and was the star player in their run to the 2002 World Cup Final. Ballack missed the final after unselfishly taking down a South Korean player in the Semi, which earned him a yellow card and a suspension. Germany lost to Brazil without him.
An unsuccessful Euro 2004 tournament saw some of the older players retire, and Ballack took over as captain. He led Germany to a proud semi-final defeat in their homeland at World Cup 2006, with Italy despatching them on the way to winning the tournament. Euro 2008 bought similar heartache, as Germany lost in the Final to Spain.