17th May, 2012
Michael Ballack rates as one of the best players to emerge from Germany over the last decade. He won 98 caps and captained his country, and also earned a veritable array of domestic honours with Kaiserslautern, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
He led Germany to the runners-up spot at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan and third place at the 2006 edition on home soil. The 35-year-old also captained his side to the final of UEFA EURO 2008, only to collect another runners-up medal.
He spoke to FIFA.com about the UEFA Champions League final between two of his former clubs – Bayern and Chelsea – his illustrious playing career and hunger for trophies, and about the German national team, who he rates among the hot favourites for EURO 2012.
Bayern Munich and Chelsea meet in the final of the Champions League on 19 May. You spent four years at each of the clubs, so is it a case of divided loyalties for you personally?
You’re right, it certainly is. I was very successful with both clubs and I have a lot of fond memories, so ideally, I’d like both Chelsea and also Bayern to win it.
Bayern are rated slight favourites for the final, but what’s your opinion? Is it an advantage for Bayern to be playing at their home ground?
Yes, I think so. We’ve never had this apparent advantage for one side in a Champions League final before. More than anything else, playing at home has to give you an emotional edge.
Both clubs are without a handful of important players. How would you rate the selection situation for both sides?
First of all, I reckon Chelsea’s loss is greater than Bayern’s. Chelsea are without all their regular centre backs and defensive midfielders. Compensating for that is a problem even for the Chelseas of this world.
On the one hand, Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes is a veteran who’s seen it all, but Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo has much less coaching experience. How do you think the pair match up?
Obviously, Jupp Heynckes is way ahead in terms of international experience, but on the other hand, the Chelsea players more than make up for that, so I think it all evens itself out.
You appeared in the Champions League final on two occasions. What are the little things which will make the difference between winning and losing on 19 May?
Actually, it all starts in the build-up. How do you spend the preceding days, how do you prepare yourself mentally for this kind of game? Both teams missed out on their respective league titles this season, so the match is even more important for the pair of them. Both sets of players have been focusing hard on this match for a number of weeks. Obviously, a lot depends on form on the day. Experience, nerves, and a fact we should never forget, a little bit of luck, all play a role.
You can be as talented as you want, but there’s no way round ambition, discipline, focus, and the desire to overcome difficulties and make the breakthrough.
You have nothing left to prove now and you’re a member of the FIFA 100. What does recognition like that mean to you?
Naturally, it’s a great honour and I’m proud to be on the list.
In Germany, you were very successful with Kaiserslautern and Bayern Munich. How important is winning trophies to a hugely ambitious professional footballer?
Trophies are part of the game. You win some, you lose some. But fundamentally, I’m delighted my hobby became my job. I had the privilege of making a living from something I enjoy, and that’s independent of whether you win things or not.