The exploits of Die Mannschaft over the past couple of years and the emergence of midfielders, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil might have made him a forgotten man in the minds of many football fans but the “man with the number 13 shirt” will always rule their hearts.
His retirement might not have made a lot of news, nor might have interested a lot of people but his legacy as perhaps the greatest player of his generation will never be forgotten and had he played for any other country or had his relationship been any different with the German FA, a testimonial would have definitely been given (the news of no testimonial has been confirmed by various sites).
Michael Ballack dubbed as the “Little Kaiser” started his carrier with second division side Chemnitz but soon moved to Kaisweslantern where he won his first league title and established himself as one of the side’s leading players.
It was at Bayer Leverkusen that he made his breakthrough playing as an attacking midfielder and it was where the “curse of the runner-up” was to fall on him. Leverkusen finished runners-up on three fronts (league, cup and champions league), a spot Ballack was to frequent with for most of his carrier.
Germany finished a surprise second in World Cup 2002, a highly unfancied team was inspired by the impressive performances of Ballack in their run to finals (which he unfortunately missed) who was seen by many as the ray of light to end one of the darkest periods of the German footballing history.
Ballack’s desire for silver-ware saw him sign for German powerhouse Bayern Munich in the summer of 2002 and it was where he enjoyed arguably the most successful period of his carrier, winning three domestic doubles but with criticism from club hierarchy over his performances and European glory still alluring him, Ballack decided to try his luck elsewhere, moving to English champions Chelsea in the summer of 2006.
That summer also saw Ballack lead his country for the first time in a major tournament as the Germans finished third in World cup 2006, the close miss only seemed to have increased the midfielder’s hunger for success on the international front.
Meanwhile Ballack soon became a favourite both among the fans and players at Stamford bridge, playing in a more defensive role to accommodate the attack-minded Frank Lampard. However his curse again came into play as the Blues finished runners-up to Manchester United in Europe after John Terry’s (in)famous penalty miss.
Ballack had a chance to redeem himself in Euro 2008, which would turn out to be his last major tournament, but once again his hopes were dashed at the final hurdle by the La Roja, a team that has dominated the international scenesince then.
The following year Ballack again missed out on the only missing club trophy in his cabinet as his Chelsea side were undeservingly knocked out by Barcelona, thanks to some disastrous refereeing.
The year 2010 seemed to have given Ballack his chance for a final flourish as he secured a domestic double with Chelsea and looked all set to lead arguably the best German side since he first broke into the international stage, but again the lady luck was not on his side as a tackle from Kevin Prince Boateng ended his dreams of featuring in the tournament.
The world cup saw the emergence of a new generation of stars including Mesut Ozil whose impressive performances effectively put curtains on Ballack’s carrier.
Ballack moved back to Germany in summer of 2010 to join his former side Leverkusen but lack of fitness and form meant that his role was diminished and further disagreement with German FA and team boss Low, combined with the dominance of Bayern Munich players in the national set-up meant that Ballack was a forgotten man.
After two forgettable years with the German side where he was made the fall guy for the club’s failures, Ballack was released and even though he had offers from America and Australia, the illustrious number 13 decided to call time on a carrier of near-misses and of what could have been!
– By Pranav Agarwal