Michael Ballack, the former German National Team captain, debuted on ESPN as a studio analyst during the company’s critically acclaimed presentation of the UEFA European Football Championship 2012 from Friday, June 8, through Sunday, July 1. He returned in the same role from June 12 – July 13, 2014, for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Ballack was appointed German National Team captain in 2004 by former coach Jurgen Klinsmann (current U.S. Men’s National Team coach). He played in 98 international matches for Germany and scored 42 goals from 1999 – 2010, when injury forced him off the World Cup team. He played in three UEFA European Football Championships in 2000, 2004 and 2008, and two FIFA World Cup tournaments in 2002 and 2006. Arguably the best central midfielder ever in German soccer, Ballack began his playing career with a regional club Chemnitzer FC in 1995 at 19 years old. His performance on the team earned him a transfer to Kaiserslautern in 1997.
Ballack’s move to Kaiserlautern marked the beginning of a professional career at the senior level that led him to some of Europe’s most prominent clubs. After two seasons (1997-99) and a league title in 1998 at Kaiserslautern, Ballack moved to Bayer Leverkusen, where his career blossomed in a more attacking role in the midfield. At Leverkusen (1999-2002), he scored 27 goals in the Bundesliga and nine in European competition over three seasons. By the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea-Japan, Ballack had earned a spot as a key member of the national team. He scored in back-to-back matches against the United States (quarterfinal) and South Korea (semifinal) to help lead Germany to the final.
Ballack was suspended for the final match following a tactical foul in the semifinal, and Germany lost 0-2 to Brazil. He was selected to the FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament, a feat he would replicate in 2006. Same year, Ballack won the first of his three German Footballer of the Year Awards. He won the other two in 2003 and 2005. Ballack’s successful run in the 2002 World Cup attracted suitors from the best clubs in the Bundesliga and across Europe. He decided to stay in Germany, signing with perennial powerhouse Bayern Munich, where he enjoyed the most successful stretch of his professional career. Bayern won three Bundesliga titles and three German Cups in his four seasons (2002-06) with the club.
During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Ballack captained the Klinsmann-coached German team, which played inspiring free-flowing soccer en-route to a third-place finish on its home soil. He earned his second selection to the FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament and his team’s performance stirred renewed national pride across the nation. Germany’s record in two World Cups with Ballack: runner-up in 2002 and third-place in 2006. He played in 11 FIFA World Cup matches and scored three goals.
Following the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Ballack joined Chelsea FC in the English Premier League on a free transfer. He played for Chelsea from 2006-10. He won a Premier League title and three FA Cups with The Blues before signing a two-year contract with Bayer Leverkusen in 2010 to return home to the German Bundesliga. Ballack retired from professional football after the completion of the 2011-2012 Bundesliga season.