Dutt’s tough choice

Michael Ballack is likely to start on the bench against Werder Bremen this weekend. The question on most Leverkusen fans mind at the moment is, will he ever make the first team again?

When Michael Ballack signed for Leverkusen one and a half years ago most Leverkusen fans were overjoyed, claiming that the long-lost son had come home again. The pill makers owning Bayer Leverkusen even agreed to pay half of Ballack’s wages to ensure his return to the club. What should have been a joyous occasion started off poorly, at best.

First Ballack caught a long-term injury in the match against Hannover, and then Jupp Heynckes struggled to find a spot in the team for the former Germany international. Ballack ended up playing 17 matches in his first season after his return from England, only assisting in one goal throughout the entire season. Even though Ballack wanted to play in the holding midfield position, Heynckes often chose to play him in attacking midfield, a position Ballack didn’t thrive in. And even though most people thought that it wasn’t possible, things seem to have deteriorated for Ballack since Robin Dutt took over the team.

Same old, same old

”Ballack in the shape of his life” was one of the first headlines Bild presented its readers during the summer break. Soon it became apparant thus, that the nice headlines wouldn’t keep piling on when it came to Ballack. ”Dutt considers playing Ballack in defense” was the first headline that might have worried the Leverkusen faithful, but after a while things got worse. When Robin Dutt told the press that it wasn’t possible to play Ballack and Rolfes at the same time the first speculations arose about Ballack wanting to leave the club.

However, the former Germany captain stuck out this rough patch, and was rewarded with a decent amount of playing time in the first half of the season. After 13 matches Ballack had managed to score 2 goals and assisted another. Not a brilliant return for the midfielder, but Leverkusen’s officials could live with those numbers so far.

Last week’s performance against Mainz did however shake up things at Leverkusen. Robin Dutt chose to take off Ballack after 60 dreadful minutes, causing the Leverkusen fans to boo the coach. Leverkusen officials weren’t sharing the fans opinion though. Sporting director Rudi Völler said after the game that he would have taken Ballack off at half time.

Bayer boss Wolfgang Holzhäuser went further in an interview with the Cologne paper Express, stating that the he was disappointed by the star’s behavior. Furthermore, Holzhäuser said:

”The experiment Ballack hasn’t worked out.”

What now, Dutt?

Leverkusen’s thin squad forced Robin Dutt to start the Rückrunde with only 16 outfield players. Ballack is at this very moment required in this squad, however, is he going to be willing to sit on the bench, and then perfomr at his very best if he’ll get subbed on? Jupp Heynckes didn’t manage to fully integrate Ballack into his team, and now Dutt is very much struggling to do the same. Robin Dutt might have to live with an unhappy Michael Ballack for the rest of the season.

Ballack’s strongest supporter at the club has always been Rudi Völler. However, besides the strong words after the match against Mainz the Bild Zeitung wrote that Ballack might have lost Völler as well. Furthermore, the paper states that the former Germany striker was informed about the clear-cut words Wolfgang Holzhäuser found in his interview with Express, and didn’t protest them. If that is true, Michael Ballack might have lost his last powerful supporter at the club.

The future

At this point it seems unthinkable that Ballack will extend his contract at Leverkusen. The 35-year-old has received offers from Qatar, the US and China according to several German media outlets. If he wants to continue his career and keep earning the amount of money he is making at the moment, a move to one of these countries doesn’t seem unlikely. Bayer boss Holzhäuser hasn’t ruled out a move before the transfer window closes on January 31st. As things stand, Ballack seems destined for the bench for the rest of the season.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.


  1. Dont think much will happen till the 31st. However if he struggles when Renato and Barnetta come back from injuries and Bayer gets eliminated by Barca, he could be keen on approaching the club and asking for his contract to be to disolved, making way to a US transfer.

  2. I think Ballack has been fairly good this season, especially in Leverkusen’s UCL campaign. He was very influential in their home wins against Chelsea and Valencia which in the end took them towards qualification. Mentioning his goals and assists doesn’t do him justice because Ballack’s game isn’t about getting goals and assists but controlling the midfield, which he has done well on many occasions this season and, considering his age, I was very surprised by his impact. Poor from the Leverkusen management.

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