This month the official magazine of the Uefa Champions League is published for the very first time. And the first issue of “Champions” includes an interview with Michael Ballack. Here’s an abridged version of the article:-
Beckenbauer. Beckham. Ballack. Name the odd one out. The answer is Michael Ballack, because if you had him in your team, you would not need the other two. "Of all the players who have been compared to me, Ballack comes closest," said Der Kaiser. “Champions” magazine sat down with the FC Bayern München playmaker, to reflect on his ascent to stardom, and the new season.
What do you recall about your childhood playing days? And who was your favourite player?
Michael Ballack: I grew up in East Germany and the player I most admired was Rico Steinmann, a midfielder with Karl-Marx-Stadt.
It must have been a big change for you in 1997 to leave your hometown, Chemnitz, and move to [1. FC] Kaiserslautern.
Ballack: It was the first time I was away from home and I suddenly had to look after myself. We were the first newly promoted team to win the league - it was a wonderful feeling because we were rank outsiders and still beat Bayern.
You came close to repeating that feeling with Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 2001/02. Do the disappointments there colour your memories?
Ballack: No, I only have positive memories. It was great fun to play alongside such gifted players and I'm especially grateful to coaches Christoph Daum and Klaus Toppmöller for all they taught me.
Why did you choose Bayern over Real Madrid [CF] in 2002?
Ballack: It wasn't that I decided against joining Madrid, I decided in favour of Germany. I felt it would be important to play for the top team in the Bundesliga before the 2006 [FIFA] World Cup.
You wear No13, a supposedly unlucky number. Why is that?
Ballack: It was Rudi Völler's old Leverkusen number. He ended his playing career to become director of football when I arrived. He asked me to wear his number and that's why I do it for my club and the national team.
You wore it in the World Cup semi-final against South Korea last year. When you picked up a second yellow card in that game, did you realise you would miss the final?
Ballack: I knew I had one booking and normally you'd be a bit more cautious. Yet in a situation like this, you don't worry about yourself - you do whatever helps the team. I had to make the tackle. It was a professional foul, not a brutal scything down of a player, but it was necessary and the card was justified.
The German national team has been criticised recently. Is that fair?
Ballack: There have always been teams more technically gifted than us, but German sides have been able to make up with our fighting spirit, discipline and tactical organisation. Now other teams have caught up, which is why it's more difficult to play the so-called minnows.
You've been compared to a young Franz Beckenbauer. Is that annoying?
Ballack: Beckenbauer was the greatest German player of all time. Technically now he's my employer. No, of course it doesn't annoy me - it's an honour.
So what are your ambitions for the season?
Ballack: I want to qualify for [UEFA] EURO 2004 and make a good showing in Portugal. I would like to win the Bundesliga again, but the competition where we have a lot to make up for is the [UEFA] Champions League. Our fans deserve better than we gave them last year.