For more than a decade, modern football’s ‘Nearly’ man Michael Ballack was synonymous with the Germany National Team, lovingly nicknamed the ‘Die Mannschaft’ in the German footballing circles. He was the inspirational figure that had guided the German renaissance post the debacle of Euro 2000 where the Germans had had a catastrophy, finishing bottom of the group stages.
Michael Ballack was the catalyst to the redemption of the German National team who faced an unexpected humiliation in Netherlands-Belgium during Euro 2000. He traversed a long journey from the rather anonymous Saxony based club Chemnitzer FC to going on to play for some of football’s biggest clubs in Europe- Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, touching glittering heights in his career.
Ballack alongside good friend Torsten Frings were going to hold fort for the Germans in the heart of midfield, a task the talented sanguine duo did with utmost humility. The two marshalled Germany from the disappointments of two years ago to the finals of the World Cup in Korea in 2002, but the disappointment refused to leave Ballack’s career, after having already experienced the rather infamous ‘Treble Horror’ with Leverkusen at club level the same year, he got himself booked in the semi-final against the hosts Korea Republic resulting in him missing the final and the tears that flowed are in the memory of every man that ever loved the ‘Mannschaft’. And the rest as they say is history. Germany got run over by Ronaldo and co 2-0 in the final, a scoreline that flatters to decieve the Germans, for Brazil had dominated and the score could have been worse.
However the Euro 2004 was a major diasppointment for the Germans again as they were bundled out of the Group of Death group containing Nedved-led Czech’s and bitter rivals Netherlands. Change of coach followed and installed at the helm was Jurgen Klinsmann for the WC in two years time and the improvement was staggering under the new gaffer. Ballack and Frings were still going strong at heart of midfield eventually guiding the Germans to a semifinal in WC06 on home soil. But then luck had never the Germans’ best friend during Ballack’s time, and this was to be Frings’ turn as a suspension ruled him out of the semi against Italy and Ballack without his fellow marauder couldnt prevent Germany from bowing out of the World Cup as they cruelly lost 2-0 in Extra time to eventual champions Italy owing to goals scored in the 119th and 121st minutes. Two minutes of madness had been like dagger down the German hearts that had longed for a victory for the home nation on football’s grandest stage.
Forward two years and Germany were finally competing in the big time at Euros for the first time in many a year. They eventually reached the final, what would be the last major final for Ballack as well as for Frings, but what unfolded was all a familiar story for Ballack, Germany had fallen short in Vienna again losing to Spain through a solitary Torres goal. Ballack had been confounded by despair again and defeat in big finals had refused to let him away. It was a crying shame that Ballack had fallen short again, not for the first time, but he still had time on his side and correct everything that had gone wrong with him over and over again. Luck had deserted him uncountable times, from the treble horror with Leverkusen in 2002 to WC final defeat the same year, the eventful Champions League final loss in that cold night in Moscow to the damning European Championship Finals loss to the Spaniards. They say, luck eventually runs out on people, for Ballack it was more like, could luck ever favour this suave and confident footballer?
The World Cup in 2010 was going to be swansong, it had to be, luck finally ought to serve him right. It had to be Ballack’s parting glory, didnt it? But luck refused to lose and let Ballack get one over it. Ballack was injured incidentally by German born Kevin-Prince Boateng weeks before the WC finals and Ballack had been condemned to missing what was going to be the final World Cup of a career full of ‘what might have been’ moments.
But despite the dashed hopes of being not able to play a part for Germany in South Africa, Ballack always the fighter that he was, tried his best to return to the International fold for Germany. Change of surroundings followed in the summer, as Ballack returned to club that arguably launched him into the spotlight- Leverkusen, in a bid to return to the ‘Die Mannschaft’. And he was well on his way too, that until the dreaded call from national coach Joaquim Loew came notifying that Ballack was no longer required by the Germans. The epitaph of a glorious career for the national team had been written rather unceremoniously, much like how his good friend Frings’ international career was curtailed by the same man Jogi Loew less than a year ago. Its a shame that the romance with Germany National team had to end how it did for both these legends of the German game.Whether it is the fault of Jogi Loew or not, is another matter as the recent good form of the ‘young’ German team would suggest, but should the facts be laid bare, these two men deserved a better send off than what they got. For two men who had won many a battle together had been thrown off their mantle in a near identical manner.
And it isnt much a surprise that Ballack got so near the 100 cap mark for his nation, and yet fell so agonisingly short. Surely, Ballack was never destiny’s favourite child and history would forever parade all the runners-up medals that he collected during his time. That apart, there is no doubt about the lasting legacy and the mark that Ballack had left on football in homeland and on the World stage too. When the counts for the best players of this generation are made, this German’s name shall surely feature, and feature very near the top of the ladder.
He would still be playing at club level with Leverkusen, but not for the German National team, and without a shadow of a doubt he shall be missed, his vision, his leadership and his very presence in the team setup. But whats happened can not be changed, his international career HAS ended bereft of a major trophy. Our superstar, our hero, our Legend- Michael Ballack has said his final goodbye for Germany and now would be limited to the memoirs of football history . The jersey numbered 13 is no longer going to worn by Germany’s most adored son. German NT shall go on but its protagonist for so long, would only be there in the stands cheering them and not on the pitch strutting his stuff. He might be gone but his lasting legacy shall still reminisce of what an undeniably magnificent player he was is. Adios Michael Ballack!
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