Ballack enjoying new lease of life
Michael Ballack believes he is better prepared than ever to lead Germany to success at UEFA EURO 2008™ after returning to top form with Chelsea FC in recent months.
Having failed to set the Premier League alight during his first year at Stamford Bridge, the former FC Bayern München midfielder suffered a frustrating first half of the present campaign as he struggled with a recurring ankle problem. Since returning in December, however, the 31-year-old has become an increasingly important figure in west London: his double against Manchester United FC last month almost tilted the Premier League title in Chelsea's favour, and Sir Alex Ferguson's men will be keeping a particularly close eye on the playmaker in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League final.
'I was distraught'
The past six months have witnessed a dramatic turnaround for Ballack who hopes to cap off his resurgence by winning silverware with both club and country in the coming weeks. "It was a really tough time for me," Ballack said of his eight-month spell on the sidelines. "The expectations [in England] were huge and I couldn't show people what I was capable of. I was distraught but I fought back and fortunately things are going well now. I'm back in the final of the Champions League and I'm in good form for EURO 2008™."
Ballack helped Germany to the runners-up spot at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and a third-place finish on home soil four years later. Those campaigns reflect a long, successful career in which the former 1. FC Kaiserslautern player has won a host of domestic prizes yet suffered several near misses on the European and international scenes. Having been part of the Bayer 04 Leverkusen side that lost in the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League final, Ballack can start to set that record straight in Moscow next week before turning his attentions to the national team's plight this summer.
He believes the difficulties he has had to overcome at Chelsea have made him a stronger player, ensuring he is better equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. "I have become more mature in England," Ballack explained. "I had to get accustomed to the Premier League, which challenges you physically more than the Bundesliga. This Premier League is the measuring stick for every other league."
Ballack's fine form has fuelled considerable optimism in Germany, and the man who has scored 35 goals in 79 internationals believes such confidence is justified. "We were strong in qualification and we're in good form now," he said. "If we can keep those performances going then we have a good chance of reaching the [UEFA EURO 2008™] final and winning it. But there is still a long way to go to get there."