World Cup

Does Germany Miss Michael Ballack at World Cup?

| by Russell Fine

He's one of the most adored players in Europe, but Germany have a far better chance of winning this World Cup without their talismanic captain Michael Ballack.

Many of the sports betting exchanges experienced a lengthening of odds on the Germans bringing the golden trophy back from South Africa when Ballack was ruled out of the tournament through injury. But the Latin-style flair occasionally exhibited by the usually machine-like Deutscher Mannschaft in this World Cup has only been made possible because their 'best' player and captain has failed to make the trip.

Ballack's fans say he is statesman-like in midfield: putting in ferocious mileage in the space of 90 minutes, and stabilising any team for which he plays. His club statistics bear this out: Chelsea last season won 75% of matches with him, but only 50% when he was absent.

But if Ballack is the player his devotees insist, why is it that Chelsea have just let him go on a free transfer?

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Week-in, week-out this season, fans of the London club have derided his performances as pedestrian. His lengthy limbs mean that rather than a colossus he can appear like a lumbering giant on pitch. And he has increasingly shown a tendency to go for the safest possible pass, when something more adventurous might give his team an advantage.

Ballack is now 33 – old in football years, but not so ancient for a midfield general. Many players of his pedigree have gone on to give several more seasons for club and country.

But he is struggling to find a new club – and it isn't just because of his outrageous €140,000 per week wage demands. Many top European sides have blanked him, and he could be forced to take his wares to that circus for retired legends – Qatar.

Still a sacred cow and poster boy for millions on Germany, Ballack posed a difficult question that national manager Joachim Low dare not put into words: take him to the World Cup or not. Even the suggestion that the small town boy from the old east be dropped, a man as close to being a national icon as anyone in the reunified Germany, would be considered a national scandal.

Thus, when Kevin Prince Boateng injured him in the English FA Cup Final back in May, he diverted Low from a potential collision course with national sentiment.

Germany without Ballack are a revitalised team. The make bold, adventurous passes; they use the wings; and they create moves far apart from the team's usual Kraftwerk-like rhythm.

And that is why, with Ballack out of the way, Germany could well win this World Cup.