Michael Ballack won three Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich. - © Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images
Michael Ballack won three Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich. - © Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images
60 years of Bundesliga

Michael Ballack: a midfield marvel for Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Germany


Michael Ballack goes down as one of the greats of German football, leaving behind some unforgettable memories for both club and country.


Only a personality and player of Ballack's standing could have dominated the news agenda - and not just the back pages - on account of an ankle ligament injury, as happened little more than a month prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals.

Playing for Chelsea at the time, Ballack had successfully led his country through qualification, before a foul by Portsmouth's Kevin-Prince Boateng in the English FA Cup final ruled him out of the tournament in South Africa. As it transpired, the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up to the mark to herald in a new era for the national team, eventually taking over the captain's armband, and a year later the international career of one of Germany's true leaders was over.

Michael Ballack concluded his Germany career in 2010 with 98 caps and 42 goals. - Bongarts/Getty Images

Ballack initially rejected the offer of an international farewell game against Brazil, but subsequently organised a testimonial of his own which included Lothar Matthäus, Rudi Völler, Boris Becker and Michael Schumacher. There was little question he had earned the honour.

Destined for the top

It all began back in his native Chemnitz. After starting out as a pro with his hometown club in Bundesliga 2, Ballack climbed the first rung on the ladder to greatness, moving to Otto Rehhagel's newly-promoted Kaiserslautern. In his first season at Germany's top table, he would get his hands on the league title - to this day the biggest shock in the division's illustrious, 60-year history - gaining the attention of a number of other Bundesliga outfits before opting for a move to Bayer Leverkusen in 1999.

Ballack's Kaiserslautern were the first and hitherto only promoted side to win the Bundesliga in the following season. - imago images/Claus Bergmann

The next logical step in the midfielder's burgeoning career was a call-up to the national side. Soon installed as captain under former Bayer coach Völler, Ballack was the linchpin of the Germany team that surprised many with a run to the final of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. He scored three goals and laid on four along the way, only to miss the final - a 2-0 defeat to Brazil - through suspension. 


Just prior to those finals, the powerful playmaker with an eye for goal had been a three-time runner-up with Leverkusen - to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, Schalke in the DFB Cup, and Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League. But success followed his 2002 move to Bayern Munich, where he thrice won the league and cup double.

Michael Ballack (r.), looks on in disbelief as Leverkusen surrender a potential continental treble in 2002. - Bongarts/Getty Images

A rousing display at the 2006 World Cup that saw Ballack lead his team to a third-place finish on home soil preceded a high-profile move to the English Premier League and Chelsea. Another league title and three FA Cups ensued, but his fortunes did not pick up in the Champions League, with the Blues falling at the final hurdle, on penalties, to Manchester United in 2008.

That same year, Ballack had the opportunity to put that trail of disappointments behind him at the UEFA European Championships in what turned out to be his major tournament swansong. Once again, though, his hopes were dashed, with Spain striker Fernando Torres' goal deciding the final in Vienna.

Last hurrah

The heartache of missing out on international gold and the 2010 World Cup behind him, Ballack, with 42 goals in 98 international appearances to his name, made old flame Leverkusen his final station on a 17-year rollercoaster ride.

Watch: Ballack's top 10 Bundesliga goals

While injuries often reduced the one-time poster boy of German football to the role of bit-part player during his two-year stint at the club, his final appearance against Nuremberg in May 2012 was nevertheless greeted with a rousing mix of gratitude, adulation and sadness, befitting the stellar career of one of the game's true legends.

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