A serious feud is brewing in the German national team, after captain Michael Ballack accused coach Joachim Loew of lacking respect for veteran players. Now the question is: Can the two bury the hatchet?
These two fellas need to have a serious talk
Ballack's broadside came in a newspaper interview, when he was asked about Loew's decision not to play veteran midfielder Torsten Frings in Germany's recent World Cup qualifiers against Russia and Wales.
"Respect and loyalty are the least one can expect as a veteran national player," the Germany captain told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Ballack went on to name other examples of players he felt were squeezed out of the team without being given a fair chance. At the head of his list was former national goalkeeper Ollie Kahn, who was demoted by Loew's predecessor, Juergen Klinsmann.
Frings has recently had an unwelcome new role in Loew's squad
"A competition with Jens Lehmann was proclaimed that, to my eyes, he couldn't win," Ballack said. "The same was true with [defender] Christian Woerns who, in contrast to Christoph Metzelder, stayed true to one team and wasn't sitting on the bench."
Ballack even defended striker Kevin Kuranyi, whom Loew booted out of the squad entirely after Kuranyi abandoned the team in response to not being nominated.
"[Kuranyi] saw that it was going to be very difficult for him, even though he plays year in, year out in the Champions League and has been a regular starter for a top Bundesliga club for quite some time," Ballack said.
"Those are important criteria for the national team," the Germany captain added. "Where will we end up if things like that no longer count?"
Surprise and disappointment
The hero of Germany's recent win over Wales was 24-year-old Piotr Trochowski
Loew seemed to be taken off guard by the verbal blasts from his most important player and representative on the pitch.
"I'm fundamentally surprised that he chose to go public like this," Loew told the daily Bild newspaper. "And I'm disappointed that he's trying to affect personnel decisions in this way."
Loew said he had been up front with veteran players about their chances in the national side and insisted that it was up to him as coach to decide who played and who didn't.
Loew stressed that he still wants Ballack as team captain and would try to work through their differences. But the coach admitted he didn't know precisely how or when to approach his angry star.
Kuranyi has almost certainly played his last match for Loew
"I want to think about the form in which I'll talk to Michael," Loew said. "On principle I don't tolerate interference. But there will be a discussion. Not a few days from now, but very soon."
The outcome of that chat may determine whether Ballack is nominated for Germany's upcoming friendly against England.
"All our players know the rules concerning public criticism," Loew said.
Bosses back Loew
Ballack also feuded with Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff at Euro 2008
Germany's football functionaries were quick to back the coach.
"This constant complaining!" said German Soccer Association Vice-President and soccer legend Frank Beckenbauer in a television interview. "They've become a pack of wimps -- unbelievable! They should shut their mouths and play soccer."
German Soccer Association President Theo Zwanziger seconded those sentiments.
"I'm disappointed by Michael Ballack's behavior," Zwanziger said. "This has created a difficult and complicated situation."
Ballack will likely only see a yellow card for his latest ourburst
Zwanziger also stressed that Germany under Loew was headed in the right direction.
"The development of our national team over the past few years has been absolutely positive so I don't understand at all why there should be criticism of Joachim Loew coming from the team via the media," Zwanziger said.
But while Germany could thrive without players like Frings and Kuranyi, there is little question that the national side needs Ballack, its on-the-field leader and most technically gifted player.
So Loew may have no other choice but to forgive, or simply ignore, Ballack's attacks.