When Chelsea signed Michael Ballack as a free agent in the summer of 2006, it was regarded as a coup. With both Manchester United and both Milan clubs apparently tracking the dynamic German Midfielder, reports actually indicated a fear for Lampard’s presence in the Chelsea midfield.
It is now the end of Ballack’s tenure at Chelsea and many fans regard his exit as the same as those of Deco and Juliano Belletti, faithful servants but not to be missed. The Ballack Chelsea had signed never showed up in Chelsea blue. During his time at Bayer and Bayern Michael Ballack was an attacking midfielder. He had an excellent ability to arrive late into the box and his heading ability was without peer in this role. Ballack had a ferocious shot with either foot , he had an aggressive attitude to the game and was made German captain. All looked positive for his move to English football.
Problems began with one player, Frank Lampard. All of those virtues above were true also of Frank, he was Chelsea’s attacking midfielder and doing a great job of it too. Ballack was not to replace Frank and in the end had to settle for a more passive role in the centre of midfield. It is evident now but not then that this simply didn’t work Ballack’s physicality was more appropriate in taking on Defensive midfielders or central defenders it was not nearly effective against lithe and skilful central players. Ballack often found himself not being able to impose himself on the game and as time wore on his usefulness declined. His goalscoring record, unsurprisingly, dropped dramatically; he had 110 goals in 365 games in Germany (including those early formative years) but only 26 in 165 in England, this during the so-called ‘prime’ of his career.
This is not to say that Ballack had ‘lost it’ far from it, he was still scoring regularly for Germany and his stock was never higher in his homeland. News of his recent injury was cause for news-flashes in Germany as there was a palpable sense of dismay. Ballack was simply played out of position for his entire tenure at Chelsea, placed in either a central midfield or defensive midfield role that his skills never suited. The defining game of his time at Chelsea would be the Champions League match against Inter at Stamford Bridge, it was Ballack’s role to prove both some defensive work and help out in the attack. Chelsea lost the midfield battle in that game as Esteban Cambiasso controlled the midfield with help from Thiago Motta, Ballack constantly lost the ball when in possession and couldn’t prevent Wesley Sneijder from having a great game. Even with the game still in the balance Ballack was taken off for a far-from-fit Joe Cole. Having been in the stands that game there was not a single complaint from the Chelsea faithful.
Michael Ballack enjoyed some success at Chelsea with 3 FA Cup trophies, this year’s Premier League trophy and a League Cup. However the elusive Champions League trophy and Germany’s defeat to spain in Euro 2008 will leave several ‘what-if’ moments for this period of his career.
EDIT – As some are intimating Ballack is still under contract with Chelsea until 31st of this month. Ballack himself has indicated he will want to remain at Chelsea . Some indicate that Chelsea do not want to retain him . In either instance this piece is a reflection on how he has played so far under the assumption he will move on.