Michael Ballack – arrogant, in decline and ’still bitter’
“Still bitter” was the phrase used by “kicker” to describe the latest diplomatic furore surrounding Michael Ballack. A simple, but thoroughly apt headline to describe the sad decline of a man who was once the poster boy of German football. After a season of verbal wrangling with his club, Ballack’s appearance on Sky Germany’s “Football Debate” show at the weekend saw him engage in yet another very public dispute, this time over the manner in which the national team captaincy passed over to Phillipp Lahm during the 2010 World Cup.
It was a skeleton which perhaps only Ballack and his most loyal sympathisers really think worth discussing anymore. Whether or not we agree with his assertion that Lahm and Löw’s ‘behaviour was “a little odd, with hindsight”, the fact remains that under Lahm’s captaincy, Germany have continued to go from strength to strength, and are now very much among the favourites for Euro 2012.
Ballack’s particular qualm in this case was the interview Lahm gave just before the semi final in which he declared that he would not easily give up his stewardship of the armband. The Bayern player had assumed the role of captain when Kevin Prince Boateng’s FA Cup Final tackle ruled Ballack out of the entire tournament in South Africa. The interview sparked a power struggle which the the Leverkusen player eventually lost, and set the precedent for the end of his international career.
The controversial response to the loss of the national team captaincy was followed, just under a year later, by yet another tantrum over his international retirement. When Löw formally stated last summer that Ballack no longer had a role to play in the national side, Ballack’s response was that of a petulant politician. Rather than respecting the honesty of his coach, Ballack declared himself mortally insulted, and vocally refused the well meant, if naïve offer of an honorary friendly match.
On Sky’s debate this week, he defended that particular decision with the assertion that “during my injury, I had no idea where I stood, and then a lot of things happened which quite simply weren’t right.” What these things were, it seems, only Ballack knows. Certainly there was nothing unjust about him losing his place on the team, nor about the likes of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira developing to the extent that they were able to usurp him.
What Ballack seems to have forgotten is that the philosophy on which Löw’s team is built has never been one in which some players are more important than others. No player receives preferential treatment, and no player gets guarantees of retaining a place in the team after they recover from a long term injury. That Ballack, with his complaints of being left in the dark, appears to have assumed that he would be granted such an honour was a tribute only to his own arrogance.
After this episode came the tiresome and endless verbal spat with Leverkusen, after Manager Wolfgang Holzhäuser said, rather more unsubtly than he might have liked, that “the Ballack project has not gone as planned”. The former Chelsea player is now, according to some sources, set to follow other Bundesliga veterans into the uncharted territory of the American MLS.
In short, the last few years of Michael Ballack’s career have been ungainly, undignified and unattractive. Rather than a glorious return to the club which brought him into stardom, Ballack’s second spell at Leverkusen has simply been a never ending story of off field polemic.
That Michael Ballack has been one of the defining players of his era, that he can be counted among the very best footballers that Germany has produced down the years, and that his superb contributions to both club and international football have befitted a man of his talent are all truths which cannot be denied, and cannot be undone.
But, for all the nostalgia, for all the good memories that German football has of this player, the last memory will always be a slight blot on an otherwise beautiful landscape. With his attempts to portray himself as a victim of the system, someone whose ability was liberally taken for granted, Ballack has lost some of his greatness. He has become a laughable parody of himself, and, when he looks back in ten or twenty years time, it will not be the fact that he fell short of 100 caps which he regrets, but the lack of grace with which he did so.Tagged in: bayern munich, chelsea, euro 2012, football, germany, Michael Ballack, world cup
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