As a jack of no trades and master of all, Michael Ballack, Germany’s midfield general and longstanding captain, has been revered as one of Europe’s top midfielders of the past decade. Strength, stamina and intelligence, have all contributed to his precision passing, shooting and heading. Currently, he resides alongside Michael Essien and Frank Lampard, at the heart of a Chelsea midfield that would have any one of Gattusso, Keane or Vieira, thinking twice. On grass he is also still the leader of his nation, and continues to orchestrate his fellow countrymen, with chest out and fists clenched.
Though, for all Ballack’s almost arrogant, self assured approach to his duties, his career has so far been one of enduring, taking a club, and country to the brink of history, only to fall short. In 2002, dubbed the ‘treble horror’, his then club Bayer Leverkusen, came runners-up in the Bundesliga, surrendering a five-point advantage, while losing the cup final to Schalke on penalties. Further pain was inflicted, when Zinedine Zidane’s wonder volley gave Madrid victory in the champion’s league final, after Lucio had drawn the underdog’s level. Almost as if the year was destined to be one of heartbreak for Ballack, Germany lost the World Cup final to Brazil. Ballack himself was suspended for the game after carrying his side to within inches of the trophy.
The torturous year was followed by a series of successful ones at new club Bayern Munich, though, as any idiot would tell you, rarely does a season go by in which Bayern are not successful. After leagues and cups aplenty Ballack announced his move to England, to Chelsea, who under Mourinho had fended off Manchester United and Arsenal and secured back-to-back titles. Ballack signed off from Germany in typically sadistic fashion, being knocked out of the 2006 World Cup held in his homeland, by Italy, at the last four stage. Still England was expected by many to ensure Ballack with the success he craved, although Manchester United, the club he turned down on his way to Stamford Bridge, had other ideas.
Over the past three seasons Ballack, like in and for Germany, continues to endure. Surrounded by fish of equal size, he and the surrounding pool of stars have been unable to tear the premier league from Sir Alex Ferguson’s steel clutches, taking the title race to the final day of the season on one occasion. Even on penalties, where Germany have forever been kings, Ballack was unable to prevent his teammates from England and France, failing to convert in Moscow, as Manchester United once more triumphed over Chelsea in the ‘Russian roulette’ European cup final of 2008.
His seemingly failed marriage with Frank Lampard, at the centre of Chelsea’s formation has left many questioning his position at the club, and at the age of 32, many might advise Ballack to head home, return to Bavaria, and win a few more medals in his back yard. Surely nobody would begrudge him that, hasn’t he suffered enough?
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