Traditionally 13 is considered as an unlucky number, but former Bayern Munich and Chelsea star Michael Ballack, the greatest German footballer of his generation, wore that number throughout his carrier. In football, the term “Sweeper” means a particular type of Centre Backs, who often overlap to provide support or take part in his team’s offensive moves. We all know about Franz Beckenbauer aka Kaiser, who was arguably the best sweeper in the history of this game. Ballack started his carrier as Sweeper and has various similarities with Beckenbauer. That’s why he was called ‘Little Kaiser’.
Youth Carrier: Ballack and Football
At the age of 7, Ballack’s parents sent him to FC Karl-Marx-Stadt (later known as Chemnitzer FC), where he started his youth career. From then, he showed his ability to equally use both the legs, which was very rare attributes found in a footballer. He spent 12 years there before starting his senior career.
Chemnitzer FC & FC Kaiserslautern: The Story Begins
Ballack signed his first senior-level contract in 1995 with Chemnitzer FC, at the year of 19. He made his professional debut on 4th August 1995 in 2. Bundesliga. In his first season, he made 15 appearances, but his club was relegated to the multi-tiered, regional third division. The next season, he played as a regular starter for his club and scored 10 goals. But it was not sufficient for his club to regain his position.
Then in 1997, FC Kaiserslautern signed him, and he made his first-team debut against Bayer Leverkusen. In that season Ballack made 16 appearances for his club but he got the attraction by his performance. In the following season, Michael Ballack was not only a first XI member but also, he was also a leading player of his side. In that season they reached the quarter-final of UCL, but German giant Bayern Munich eliminated them in the quarter-final.
Bayer Leverkusen: The actual rise of a Star
2002 was a memorable year for Leverkusen. They finished the Bundesliga as second behind BVB Dortmund, after losing a 5-point lead. In the UEFA Champions League final, they lost 1-2 to Real Madrid. In the DFB-Pokal final, they lost 2-4 to Schalke 04. These are called ‘Treble Horror’ in the history of football.
Not only these 3 tournaments, but Michael Ballack also lost another massive tournament in 2002, when Brazil defeated Germany 2-0 where Ronaldo Nazario scored a brace. Though Ballack was not able to play the final due to suspension.
Despite losing 4 tournaments, his outstanding performance was noticed by everyone and he won ‘German Footballer of the Year’ award.
Bayern Munich: One step closer to Destiny
After losing 4 tournaments and winning the ‘German Footballer of the Year’ award Little Kaiser joined the German giant FC Bayern Munich in a €12.9 million deal in 2002. After joining FCB, he won Bundesliga in 2003 and won DFB-Pokal also after defeating FC Kaiserslautern in the final, where he scored a brace against his former club.
He was there for four seasons and among these four seasons, he won Bundesliga thrice and domestic double twice. During this period, he was under Felix Magath, who made him the first choice midfielder of that team. Michael Ballack scored 62 goals and assisted 40 goals in his 157 matches as a Bayern Munich player.
Chelsea: The Fairy-tale & An Unexpected End
Little Kaiser came to Stamford Bridge for 3 years, on a free transfer in 2006. He received his favorite Number 13 shirt, as William Gallas, who was no. 13 before that, was given the number 3 shirt. Ballack made his Premier League debut for the Blues against Blackburn Rovers on 27th August 2006. He scored 8 goals in his first season resulting huge criticism for his mediocre performance. Ballack won League Cup and FA Cup for Chelsea in his first season. Though he was not in the squad of the final match due to an ankle injury.
After recovering from that injury Michael Ballack made his return on 19th December 2007 in a League Cup match against Scousers where Chelsea won the match 2-0 and Ballack made an assist also. Then he showed his class again when he made his Premier League return against Aston Villa. It was a very intense game when he won a penalty and scored a stunning grounded goal from a set-piece in the 88th minute. The German midfielder continued to score important goals which led his team winning matches. His header against Manchester United to win 2-1 was immensely valuable as the win leveled Chelsea’s score with Red Devils just 2 days before the end of the season.
But as we have seen earlier, the life of this midfield master was full of heartbreaking moments. Michael Ballack won his 2nd Treble Horror for the Blues as they finished the league in 2nd position, lost the UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United again in tie-breaker, and lost League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspurs. As they say “History repeats itself”, Michael Ballack again lost a final for Germany when Spain defeated Germany 1-0 in Euro 2008 final, Ballack was the skipper of his team.
Next season Ballack started well with an assist in his opening game, but again injury shows how close his relationship with this player. Due to injury, Ballack missed 3 important matches against Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal. After that, the season went well as Chelsea won their Double (Premier League and FA Cup) this time. Finally, on 2nd June 2009, Michael Ballack signed a one-year contract extension with Chelsea and scored his first goal of the season in 2nd match against Sunderland. Ballack scored a total of 5 goals and assisted 8 goals in this season.
15th May, 2010: Beginning of Dark Phase
15th May 2010 was a remarkable date in his calendar. It was the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Portsmouth where Chelsea’s target was to secure their Double, after winning Premier League this season. The condition of Portsmouth was completely different. They were relegated on the last 10th April and suffering from financial problems. They became the 1st ever PL club to enter administration, which led to an automatic 9-point deduction.
In the match, Chelsea legend Petr Cech saved a penalty, taken by Kevin Prince Boateng, and within 4 minutes Talisman Didier Drogba scored from a set-piece, resulting in a 1-0 lead for the Blues. In the match, Michael Ballack had torn the medial collateral ligament in his right ankle following a reckless challenge of Kevin Prince Boateng. MRI scan confirmed the severity of that injury and he faced a minimum of 8 weeks on the sidelines before return to training, which ended his hope to lead Germany in the 2010 World Cup.
“It’s bitter to get a diagnosis like that before the World Cup,”Ballack
“There’s naturally a lot of disappointment. But that’s football. Life goes on.”
“Of course, we are shocked,” said Löw. “The loss of Michael Ballack is serious. It is not an easy situation for Michael and for us all. We are all very, very sad that such an important player, our captain, who is a true world‑class player, has been ruled out. He is deeply disappointed. He put all his energy and power into playing in this World Cup.”
Bayer Leverkusen: Returning back to home
In 2010, Ballack returned back to Bayer Leverkusen, after Chelsea refused to renew his contract. It was a rumor that manager Carlo Ancelotti wanted to retain Ballack but club owner Roman Abramovich was not considering him as a long-term plan, due to his age. In his second spell at this club, he played for almost 3 months continuously. Then, on the 6th of October Club released a statement about his shin injury, which again sent him to side-line for 4 months. In February 2011, he returned from injury and played for the rest of the season.
Nationalmannschaft: Fight for the Country
In 1996, Michael Ballack debuted for Germany under-21 team against Denmark. He played a total of 19 matches and scored four goals before joining the senior squad.
His debut for the senior team was in 1999 against Scotland. Ballack played a total of only 63 minutes in the Euro 2000 tournament. In the 2002 FIFA World Cup, he scored against the United States and South Korea. Though Germany reached the final, Ballack was not able to play in that match, because he was booked for a tactical foul against South Korea, in the semi-final. Germany lost that final, resulting in Brazil’s massive 5 times world cup winning record. Skipper Oliver Kahn, who was brilliant throughout the tournament, delivered poor performance in that match. Ballack was selected in World Cup All-Star Team.
After Euro 2004, Ballack took over the captaincy from Oliver Kahn. In World Cup 2006, he played all the matches except the first one against Costa Rica. Germany managed to be third after a defeat in the semi-final against Italy, who won that World Cup. Ballack was selected as Man of The Match against Ecuador and Argentina, and like last time, he was selected again in World Cup All-Star Team. In Euro 2008, Ballack again captained his national team and managed to reach the World Cup final. In the final, they lost 0-1 to Spain, where Fernando Torres was the only scorer. Nevertheless, he was named in the Team of the Tournament.
Ballack scored four goals in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers but missed the entire world cup after his massive ankle injury in FA Cup Final match against Portsmouth. Later, on 16 June 2011, it was announced that Ballack would no longer be a part of the national team. The German Football Association (DFB) offered him two friendly matches to reach 100 matches for Germany, which he refused to play.
Life outside Football
Michael was the only child of his parents. His father played third-division football and was an engineer by profession. His mother was a swimmer. In 2008, Ballack married Simeone Lambe. They have 3 children Louis, Emilio, and Jordi. In 2012, the couple divorced. After that, he was dating Natacha Tannous from 2015 to 2019.
Michael Ballack was one of the most versatile midfielders of his time, who has not won a single trophy for his country. He was well known for his controlling skill, passing range, and physicality. In spite of being injured at the crucial moment of his life, Michael Ballack showed his brilliance to the entire football world and the football world will remember him always as a talented footballer and a great leader.
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