Ballack on the ball

AP

The much-envied — for his looks as well as his football — Michael Ballack is an outstanding and versatile MIDFIELDER who is likely to carry much of the host nation's hopes at this summer's World Cup, writes ANDY HAMPSON.

The much-envied — for his looks as well as his football — Michael Ballack is an outstanding and versatile midfielder who is likely to carry much of the host nation's hopes at this summer's World Cup.

The Bayern Munich lynchpin, perhaps Germany's only genuine world-class player, is a destructive force who specialises in a creative, attacking role but is equally adept playing defensively. With his Bayern contract due to expire, his services are in high demand and, not surprisingly, billionaire-backed English champions Chelsea appear to be heading the queue to sign him.

Ballack's talent became obvious in childhood and by the age of seven he was passing with both feet and showing the skills of a boy much older. Born in Gorlitz, in the old East Germany, he began playing at a club called BSG Motor Karl-Marx-Stadt before moving when 10 to the bigger Karl-Marx-Stadt FC, which later became Chemnitz FC.

Ballack continued to excel and was offered a professional contract at 18. His first-team debut, in the new Bundesliga Second Division, followed a month later in August 1995. Chemnitz were relegated that season but Ballack had done enough to earn a Germany Under-21 call-up and after another impressive campaign the following year he was snapped up by Kaiserslautern.

Ballack joined Kaiserslautern at an exciting time and played a small but significant role as the club incredibly won the Bundesliga in 1998 in their first season after promotion. He became a regular the following season and helped the team to the Champions League quarter-finals before moving to Bayer Leverkusen.

Now a full international, Ballack continued to develop into one of the game's finest midfielders as he helped little Leverkusen establish themselves as a force in the German game. Perhaps, but for an unfortunate own goal by Ballack himself, Leverkusen would have won the title in 2000 and they reached the Champions League final in 2002, when they were beaten by Real Madrid.

Ballack moved on to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2002 and although he moved into a more defensive role, he was still influential as the Bavarians powered to the Bundesliga and cup double. Another double followed last year.

Ballack endured a difficult start to his international career, which began with a match against Scotland delayed by floodlight failure. His talent meant any below-par performance attracted severe criticism and Euro 2000 was not a happy tournament for him as he saw only 63 minutes of action. He appeared to have put all that behind him as he led a relatively weak German side supremely and almost single-handedly to the World Cup final in 2002. The glorious finale was not to be, however, as he was booked in the semifinal and forced to sit and watch the final through suspension as his team-mates were dismantled by Brazil in Yokohama. Ballack is certainly a ladies' favourite and was voted Germany's sexiest footballer in a poll in 2002. He is not married but lives with long-term girlfriend Simeone, with whom he has three children, Louis, Emilio and Jordi. Bayern Munich have a sponsorship arrangement with Audi and like team-mate Oliver Kahn, Ballack drives a complimentary RS6 Plus Avant 4.2 quattro, the most powerful car the manufacturer produces.

Factfile

Position: Midfielder Club: Bayern Munich DOB: September 29, 1976 Germany Caps: 62 Germany Goals: 29 Germany Debut: v Scotland, April 1999

Moment to remember:

Ballack capped his first season at Bayern, 2002-03, with an outstanding two-goal performance in the German Cup final win over former club Kaiserslautern. Ballack, at his inspirational best, netted the opener in the third minute, added a penalty seven minutes later and then set up the third as Bayern won convincingly 3-1.

Moments to forget:

The booking he received during the 2002 World Cup semifinal against South Korea, which put him out of the final against Brazil; Bayer Leverkusen looked all set to win the Bundesliga in 2000 as they went into their final game needing only to beat minnows Unterhaching. Yet they suffered a surprise stage fright and they never recovered after Ballack put through his own net and lost 2-0. Bayern Munich took the title on goal difference.

WHAT THEY SAID

"It's really disappointing for two reasons. First, we kick racism out of football and racism starts there, and, second, when you're a manager you want to accept a technical opinion but not that kind of remark. I would never like to say to a player, `you are better but you do not play because you don't have the right passport.' When Alan Pardew calls me at the beginning of the season and asks for Jeremie Aliadiere on loan, he doesn't check if he's English or not — he just checks if he's good or not. It's just painful. When you represent a club it's about values and qualities, not about passports."

— Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reacts to West Ham manager Alan Pardew's criticism of his squad having just one British player in it for the Champions League second leg match against Real Madrid.

"A manager who is married to a Swede and has signed players from Ireland, Wales, Argentina, Israel and France, while giving trials to players from Japan and Poland, cannot be called racist."

— Pardew responds.

"You only have problems in getting two bad players to work together and interact. You have no problems if you have two very good players."

— Jose Mourinho explains why he believes Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard will be a `dream pairing' in the Chelsea midfield next season.

�PA Sport, 2006, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.