Michael Ballack Makes ESPN’s Analysis Must-See TV

As debates go, it wasn’t quite Lincoln versus Douglas, or even Frank the Tank versus James Carville, but Michael Ballack and Alexei Lalas went at it after England drew France on Monday.

Like the match itself, it was a contrast of styles. In one corner, the calm, cool, and collected Ballack, casually dismissing England and Roy Hodgson’s stodgy tactics. In the other, the exuberant and excitable Alexi Lalas, offering wild praise for the same.

Ballack has been sensational as part of ESPN’s comprehensive Euro 2012 coverage. Like the captain he was, Ballack exudes confidence. That self-assuredness is all the more impressive considering he is speaking English among native speakers such as Lalas and Bob Ley. He speaks with only a slight accent that is charming rather than distracting, unlike Brad Friedel’s bizarre amalgamation.

Providing studio commentary is not a particularly difficult job, but his confidence and charisma make him a natural. He can engage in light banter, like when he made allusion to his communist East German upbringing and when he teased Lalas and American soccer by heartily endorsing Giuseppe Rossi’s spurning of the U.S. for Italy.

He can also be authoritative, like when he shook his head in dismay at what he felt was England’s negative football. Like a father reading his son’s report card, he wondered aloud with both disappointment and wistfulness in his voice, “Is this the way to play football in the future?” 

I, like the exuberant Lalas, disagreed. There is a rugged beauty in seeing a team like England, or Chelsea a month ago, make like the Thames Barrier and absorb wave after wave. But standing with, or against, Ballack is not the point. Ballack, in providing insouciantly honest analysis over bland generalities, makes ESPN’s analysis must-see TV.

34 thoughts on “Michael Ballack Makes ESPN’s Analysis Must-See TV”

    1. I wouldn’t say awful but it’s not as good as the author depicts. I know only one language so I’m impressed by anyone who speaks and can think in languages that are not his native tongue….however Ballack is still interpreting everything in his mind first. He needs to think in English as well, otherwise you get the odd delayed sentences.

      There is something about the $200 haircut and gel on his head that is weird to me?

  1. I rarely watch studio analysis for any sport, but the few minutes I have seen of Ballack have been painful!! I would not call his accent slight and clearly is struggling with English or being on TV in general. Roberto Martinez puts him to shame.

  2. What Ballack says can sometimes be interesting but his delivery is very slow and methodical. It’s like he’s struggling to form his ideas into English sentences. I’m assuming it’s the language that’s causing this but maybe that’s just the way he speaks. He certainly isn’t afraid to voice his opinions and I like that. Too many commentators just spit out positive agreement with everything that’s said and rarely bring anything new to the table. I just wish Ballack was a bit more lively and cohesive in his arguments.

  3. I have enjoyed Ballack. He’s German, he’s blunt and he states his opinion honestly. “Well, I don’t like it” in response to Lalas was a great retort the other day. He’s a true footballer.

  4. Yeah, it’s painful to watch Ballack fumble for English words to describe his opinion…i have to turn to another channel until the match begins.

  5. I think Ballack is doing a fine job. If ESPN purchases more soccer, then he should be in consideration for a spot on the commentating team. I also would like to see more Roberto Martinez on ESPN’s Euro’s coverage.

    1. Would be impossible for Martinez to be involved more with US ESPN as Martinez also provides punditry in the UK for ITV and BBC. Ballack has done a great job, His resume is far more impressive than Lalas and he gives a much better insight, Yes at times he may struggle but it is his second language I’d like to see Lalas go on Germany TV and try and give his views. I think the problem is Balack and Lalas combination is an epic fail. It is quite obvious that Ballack has no respect for Lalas’ opinion and to be frank anyone with an able football mind must be throwing the remote at the screen. It is downright cringeful some of the ‘nuggets of wisdom’ he comes out with. Bloody awful

  6. I’ve enjoyed Ballack, and although I think Lalas is told, by producers, to dispute him even if he says the sky is blue, Lalas is taking it a little too far. It makes me uncomfortable to watch a former player like Lalas, with very few accomplishments in the sport act so unprofessional to someone like Ballack.

  7. I like Ballack a lot. I think the only knock is that he takes a little long to put his thoughts into English sentences. I sympathize with this, as I myself often have to speak two different non-native languages and it is never quick or easy to do. I can’t imagine how tough it would be with a gigantic international audience looking at you on their TV screens.

    But he is indeed an unpolished studio presence. And this can be a good thing – such as when he fails to observe the sort of expected studio decorum vis-a-vis the idiot Lalas. I just love the incredulous looks he shoots that guy when Lalas says something stupid. Which is roughly every 15 seconds.

    1. “such as when he fails to observe the sort of expected studio decorum vis-a-vis the idiot Lalas. I just love the incredulous looks he shoots that guy when Lalas says something stupid. Which is roughly every 15 seconds.”

      Yes, this might be my favorite part of having MB on American TV.

  8. ballack is horrible. Get rid if him and that Irish numpty Tommy “the onion bag” smith as both are painful to listen to.

  9. Ballack is way too slow and dry. It’s mostly the language barrier, I think, but he is sleep-inducing. He also keeps looking down at a piece of paper instead of at the camera or his co-hosts.

    Bob Ley is also difficult to listen to since he clearly is unfamiliar with the players and teams of world soccer.

  10. I applaud his honesty opinion regarding the England tactics, but the man can barely complete a full sentence in English. That’s a problem. The Lalas/Ballack combo has been an abomination.

  11. Whether or not you like MB is not the problem. The problem is the idiot Lalas. Why does ESPN insist on putting him in the commentators seat every time? If I have to listen to him harp on about set pieces one more time I might throw my remote through the screen. Does he think there are people out there who don’t think set pieces are important?? EVERYONE who knows even the smallest thing about soccer, knows that they can change a game so why does he think that he needs to bring it up every two seconds. It only makes him seem like even more of an idiot as if all he knows about soccer is the phrase “set pieces” and just uses it as often as possible. I feel bad that MB, for his first shot at commentating on American TV, has to do it opposite Lalas. He probably takes so long to say anything because he is trying to control the urge to strangle the red headed idiot.

  12. The only reason people find him boring is because he has a foreign accent and doesn’t sound like a chicken on crack.

  13. I thought his first day was not very good b/c he wasn’t comfortable enough with Lalas and Ley.

    Switch to today and his delivery while still slow and methodical is much better than last week. He needs a second to formulate everything into English but his insight has been good.

  14. How many times he going to tell the joke about the Dutch kids with big ears, if you have to explain it the SECOND time you tell it then it’s probably not that funny in the first place.

  15. I think Ballack has been the best of the group of pre/half/post game coverage with the exception or Darke and McManaman. Cannot stand to listen to that idiot Lallas talk. He think he is a soccer god who knows all and can do no wrong when actually it couldn’t be further from that. Bretos is dreadful as well. I loved Ballack’s bluntness, it’s a breath of fresh air. And the look on Alexi’s face was priceless. If the worldwide leader wants to be taken a bit more seriously about their desire to display the beautiful game to the masses I feel like they need to get some people who have played or managed at the highest level for a good portion of their careers, and that just doesn’t seem like Lallas, and certainly not Bretos, in my opinion.

  16. Most of the comments against Ballack are about his accent and language, not the content of his comments… to me, if he can give me valuable commentary, I don’t care if he’s slow. Lalas can speak fast, and I feel like most of what he says is pompous and garbage. They always employ him for the same reason that LA Galaxy ever hired him as General Manager; he’s done well to make himself a brand as a former player and is very bold in the way he conducts himself. Makes for good TV, I suppose. :-/

  17. WTF happend to Roberto Martinez and Ruud Gullit??? Awful coverage from Lalas and everyone else on that show. Then they had some other painful guy that I’m watching right now! I am shocked by this article. No banter, no half way interesting comments, complete garbage.

  18. i think michael has good contributions but I agree that the language is making him slow. he is goodlooking, confident in his opinions and has a wealth of experience on the internaitonal level. I believe he just needs time to become comfortable on camera especially in another language.

  19. I wish they could get martinez but the other guy from deportes was good. I am okay with everyone except the Joe hart look alike

  20. Ballack has the most accurate and insightful analysis of these games. He’s German, he’s direct and too the point without any flowery unnecessary commentary. People complain about his accent? At least he can pronounce all the names of the players correctly, I mean, come on, the American commentators can’t spend a couple hours learning the players names?

  21. He gives great advice but is a little slow speaking with that german accent so I’m left wondering what he said since its like he’s pulling the word by word out of His mouth but he says it like he is ,Roberto martinez is the best and for also someone who speaks English as the second language he is spot on very fast with words and explains it into detail ,ballack as good as he is it’s sometimes annoying and he seems out of place when he states his opinion .Lalas is your typical American you must do this to get this guy .

  22. I’d rather watch the world-class footballer Ballack struggle with English, and give us the blunt, direct German analysis that is good, than the blathering lightweight Lalas.

    It is the content of his words that makes him so good. He knows what he is talking about. He’s sat behind the greatest players in the world, delivering them the ball.

    What’s Lalas ever done except have long hair?

  23. I love Ballack’s comments and methodical, slow approach, if you guys want to call it that. Why rush? Why not speak and present yourself poised?

    The person I absolutely cannot stand is that Bob Ley. He looks like he’s never played a sport in his life and if you’ve never played futball you have no clue what it takes, so ala the real dumb questions and facial expressions I can’t stand. He leaves awkward banter on the table and the others need to carry it forward steered by his naivety and dumbness on the sport. Every game it’s the same stupidity from him.

  24. I think Lalas tries to be objective and professional at all times. Ballack seems like he’s a commentator for the German TV. He really sounds like a football player who just finishes a match and talks about the game. By the way he always sounds like there is no purpose on watching any of these games because it’s obvious Germany is going to win… At least that’s how I feel. A level of arrogance that results annoying after a while.
    Miss Martinez and a good soccer expert.

  25. I like Ballack, I think he did a decent job, it’s his first time being a commentator and in a non-native language. He showed confidence. They added him there for a reason, for a different perspective as a former footballer and captain and as a foreigner, he supposed to have an opinion about something and he was not afraid to show. As for translation in English, yes the vocab is a bit limited but he’s trying hard. Imagine not only having to translate, but to translate in a language that’s professional as a commentator on TV, is not an easy task. It’s not like he can just type it and has some oops and hit the backspace button.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *