Germany offer Ballack a gracious exit, he opts for a pouty face!
What a difference a year makes. Last May, German soccer star Michael Ballack was on top of the world. His club team Chelsea had just been crowned English Premier League champions for the third time in six years; Chelsea was preparing for a FA Cup Final showdown with Portsmouth the following week; and, most notably, the German National Team, led by long time Captain Ballack, was finalizing travel details to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. 2010 was supposed to be the magic year … the year Ballack would lead ‘Die Mannschaft’ to its fourth World Cup title and its first in 20 years, and for him, a final attempt to show the world that one of the most famous and accomplished German midfielders could win the big game. Then, the ‘horror scenario’ unfolded during the first half of Chelsea’s FA Cup game versus Portsmouth, and a bone crushing tackle left Ballack with a game ending ankle injury. His career at Chelsea was over (he was released in the summer of 2010), his hopes of competing in South Africa were dashed (he was not a member of the 23 player German World Cup squad), and his future as a professional soccer player, beyond the 3-4 months of injury healing time, was uncertain at best.
This latest chapter of soccer virtuoso Ballack was indefinitely shut earlier last week, when national team coach Joachim Loew announced the official end of Ballack’s Germany career. While the now Bayer Leverkusen starter had been battling since last June to regain his health and playing form in order to earn another nomination as one Germany’s top eleven, the teams sans Ballack underwent a phenomenal transformation in South Africa and more recently in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Phillip Lahm, Bayern Munich’s star full back, has replaced Ballack as Germany’s much younger captain, and the team without the more conservative and methodical Ballack at the helm, dazzled the soccer world in South Africa with aggressive attacking offense and Spielfreude (translated ‘game happiness’) that had not been present since the days of Beckenbauer in the 70’s and Klinsmann, Matthaeus and Voeller in the late 80’s/early 90’s.
While Loew’s decision to remove Ballack from all future national team plans comes as no surprise, the manner in which the (ex) el capitano is handling the news has been anything but gracious. In typical Ballack fashion, he has proceeded to blow this decision and the manner in which it was made, completely out of proportion, calling his fomer bosses liaers and cold-hearted. In several post-announcement soundbites, he has laughed off invites to compete in two more games to reach a landmark 100 caps and called Loew's idea (of making the Germany-Brazil August friendly his home farewell) patronizing and ridiculous.
I am proud to be a Germany supporter and thrilled to see the ‘new and improved’ team in action, but still, it saddens me that one of our biggest modern national team heroes (yes, Ballack, like it or not!) feels betrayed and left out in the cold (and, is quite vocal about it). Then again, if there’s one person who can commiserate with Cher and would like to turn back time, maybe even just a year, it’s Ballack.