Michael Ballack (born 26 September 1976 in Görlitz, Saxony) is a German footballer. A midfielder, he is the current captain of the German national team, and plays club football for Chelsea in the English Premier League. In all the teams he has played in, he has always possessed the number 13 shirt.
His parents sent him to train with the side when he was seven years old. He later moved on to FC Karl-Marx-Stadt (renamed Chemnitzer FC in 1990). His father had played second-division football himself in Germany. Unusual for his early age was Ballack's ability to use both feet with equal authority.In 1995, Ballack earned his first professional contract, thanks to his performances in the role of central midfielder. He was dubbed the "Little Kaiser," in reference to Franz Beckenbauer, who was nicknamed "The Kaiser." His professional debut came on 4 August 1995, on the first day of the new 2. Bundesliga season. Chemnitz lost the game 2-1, against VfB Leipzig.At the end of the season, during which Ballack made fifteen appearances, Chemnitz were relegated to the multi-tiered, regional third division. On 26 March 1996 Ballack made his debut for Germany's Under-21 side.The following season, Ballack became a regular first-team player as Chemnitz missed out on an immediate return to the Bundesliga. He did not miss a game and scored ten goals for the "Sky Blues". It was not enough for Chemnitz to go up, but in the summer of 1997 coach Otto Rehhagel of just-promoted 1. FC Kaiserslautern signed Ballack at their return to top flight football.
It was during the seventh game of the 1997–98 season, away to Karlsruher SC, that Rehhagel decided to throw Ballack into the Bundesliga for the first time, if only for the final five minutes of the encounter. On 28 March 1998, Ballack made his first-team debut against Bayer Leverkusen.Ballack made sixteen appearances for his new team during the season as the club became the first-ever newly promoted team to lift the league title. In the following season, Ballack became both a regular (he made 30 appearances, scoring four goals) and one of the side's leading players. Kaiserslautern reached the quarter finals of the Champions League, but were knocked out by Bayern Munich.On 1 July 1999, Ballack moved to Bayer Leverkusen at the age of 22, for a transfer fee of €4.1 million.
It was at Bayer Leverkusen that Ballack made his breakthrough. Coaches Christoph Daum and Klaus Toppmöller granted him an attacking role in the midfield. Ballack was instrumental to the success of Leverkusen, scoring 27 goals in the league and 9 in Europe over the course of his three seasons at the BayArena.In 2000, Bayer Leverkusen needed only a draw against minnows Unterhaching to win the title, but an own goal by Ballack helped send the team to a crushing (0-2) defeat, while Bayern Munich clinched the title with a (3-1) victory over Werder Bremen. 2002 was a season of disappointment for Bayer Leverkusen. In the German Bundesliga, the team surrendered a five point lead at the top of the table over the last three games of the season to finish second behind Borussia Dortmund, lost the Champions League final 2-1 to Real Madrid, and lost the German Cup final 4-2 to Schalke 04. These three runner-up finishes were dubbed 'Treble Horror'.Ballack and Leverkusen teammates Bernd Schneider, Carsten Ramelow, and Oliver Neuville were even beaten finalists with Germany in the 2002 World Cup, although Ballack was suspended for the final itself. Ballack finished with 17 league goals, and his performance over the season led to him being voted into the uefa.com users' Team of 2002 as well being named German Footballer of the Year.
Ballack playing for Bayern MunichIn spite of Real Madrid's interest, Ballack decided to sign with Bayern Munich in a €12.9 million deal in 2002 after his impressive performances in the World Cup. Bayern won the Bundesliga in his first season with 75 points, they also won the German Cup. In his second season however, Bayern lost their Bundesliga crown to Werder Bremen along with the cup.In his third season with the Bavarians, Ballack enjoyed success in the 2004-05 season as Bayern Munich completed another double. New coach Felix Magath stated he was the only automatic starter in their midfield In four seasons at Bayern, Ballack won three Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal doubles and scored 47 goals in 135 matches. Between 1998 and 2005, Ballack notched up 61 goals in his domestic league.However, Ballack's critics noted his frequent choking in important Champions League matches. This resulted in open public criticism from club general manager Uli Hoeneß, communications director Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and club president Franz Beckenbauer (all former Bayern players). Beckenbauer later went as far as to accuse Ballack of "saving his strength" for prospective employers after Ballack turned in an average performance in the 2006 DFB Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt