The Curious Case of Michael Ballack

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The Curious Case of Michael Ballack
(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

The champions League semi-finals have come and gone. Much has already been written by football analysts. Suggestions of a grand UEFA conspiracy have been rife.

However, one memory that will linger on for years to come is the image of Michael Ballack hounding the Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo. What the hell was he thinking? For a moment I thought he was going to take a bite at Ovrebo's inviting ears.

The referee had refused to award a penalty kick to Chelsea after Ballack's shot had hit the arm of Samuel Eto'o in the last minute of the game. Barca had equalised minutes earlier and Ballack was so infuriated that he ran alongside the referee for almost 40 yards, huffing and puffing, yelling and cursing. He did everything but bite the referee.

Michael Ballack was not the only Chelsea player that targeted the hapless Norwegian referee. Didier Drogba was caught on camera hurling a tirade of abuse at the referee, allegedly calling him "a f%&*..g disgrace."

However, Ballack's has attracted the most attention, gaining modest popularity in several youtube videos. Chelsea fans were so much incited by the actions of Ballack and Drogba that the metropolitan police had to secretly smuggle Ovrebo out of the country.

Do you really blame him? At first thought, no. But on second thought, YES. Football is a game of intense passion and emotions. Players are so high on these attributes in every game. With a final appearance in Rome up for grabs and with so much rivalry between the two clubs, the stakes were even higher.

Ballack's frustrations can clearly be explained by looking at his footballing history. At 32, he is well beyond the peak of his career. He has already stated his wish to end his career at Chelsea.

Despite his experience playing for the German national team and for such great clubs as Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayer Munich, Ballack probably feels (and rightly so) underachieved.

He has reached one final and one semi-final of the FIFA World Cup, one final at the UEFA European Football Championship, one semi-final at the FIFA Confederations Cup with the German National team and two finals and two semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen but never has lifted a trophy in any of the eight occasions.

No other player in the history of football has a worse record after reaching at least the semi-finals of international competition at National and club level. Ballack probably saw the current Champions League season as one of his few remaining chances to break the awesome spell.

In referee Tom Henning Övrebö, Ballack probably saw an obstacle to achieving his most desired career goal.

Does that explain his actions? Probably. It is inexcusable though. Being a professional player, he should have known better. The yellow card he earned was rightly deserved.

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