26. September 1976, Görlitz
1995-1997 Chemnitzer FC
1997-1999 1. FC Kaiserslautern
1999-2002 Bayer Leverkusen
2002-2006 FC Bayern München
2006-2010 FC Chelsea
2010-2012 Bayer Leverkusen
267 appearances, 77 goals (Bundesliga)
105 appearances, 17 goals (Premier League, England)
Deutscher Meister: 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006
DFB-Pokalsieger: 2003, 2005, 2006
Englischer Meister: 2010
Englischer Pokalsieger: 2007, 2009, 2010
98 caps (42 goals)
In the late summer of 1998, a few weeks after the national team's disappointing World Cup quarter-final exit in France, a beleaguered football nation demanded a new start and looked to Kaiserslautern full of hope. FC Kaiserslautern, sensational winners of the Bundesliga title the previous season, had two of Germany's biggest talents in striker Marco Reich and midfielder Michael Ballack. One of the last acts of the soon-to-be departing national coach, Berti Vogts, was to call up both players for a forthcoming trip to Malta. They did not make their international bow until a few months later under new boss Erich Ribbeck, however. Reich made no further appearances, Ballack 98. After his final international outing, though there was no indication it would be his last at the time, the German game appeared to have entered a new state of emergency.The country's main broadcaster screened a special programme on the subject after the evening news. Ballack had suffered a serious injury in a league game in England that ruled him out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Whatever would happen? Or rather, what had happened to that point that made him indispensable?
Ballack had grown up, something reflected not only by the 1.89 metre/6'2 feet frame he moved around the pitch with so much presence in his typically upright posture. His rapid rise from hopeful young talent to top Bundesliga player was built on a smart career plan. After his spell at Kaisernslautern, he opted to join Bayer Leverkusen, where he demonstrated his outstanding quality at national and European level. Blessed with exceptional heading and two-footed shooting ability, he oozed goals from midfield but also made his presence felt at the back. In what was perhaps his best year in 2002, he led Leverkusen to brink of winning the Bundesliga, the DFB Cup and the Champions League, only to miss out on a trophy altogether. That was to change with his transfer to Bayern Munich in the same year, which saw him win the double on no less than three occasions. He eventually moved to England as a three-time Footballer of the Year, national team captain and experienced player of international renown, winning another league and cup double with Chelsea and narrowly missing out on the Champions League again.
Ballack, the only footballer to play under five Germany coaches to date, evolved into the defining figure of the domestic game during a long period of upheaval in which he had to deal with the almost crushing expectations on his special talent. Once the World Cup winners of 1990 had finally departed the Bundesliga stage, and two further dominant figures in Matthias Sammer and Stefan Effenberg had retired, the former due to injury, he and Oliver Kahn, the three-time World Goalkeeper of the Year, paved the way for the next generation of World Cup winners in 2014. The developing talents in that group may not always have felt comfortable in the shadow of the undisputed greats, but they were given the time and space to mature and eventually match their earlier peers.