Following a sterling Confederations Cup performance the rumor mill is hot with transfer talks concerning Germany's only real soccer star. But will Michael Ballack jump ship abroad?
Ballack might have his eye on a move as well
Though Pele might not think so, Michael Ballack is the closest Germany has to a superstar.
The German midfielder has been raising eyebrows domestically ever since playing for Kaiserslautern, then Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. The international community was served notice at the very latest after he led Leverkusen to the final of the Champion's League against Real Madrid in 2002.
Bayern Munich didn't waste any time in snapping up the midfielder in 2003 and Ballack has repaid them by leading them to two titles in three years. But one year before his contract is to expire, the 28-year-old, who once called the Bundesliga "too soft," has given notice that he might want to test his talent against major European competition abroad.
Move abroad could be "interesting"
"There are hardly any (German) players who were abroad that have advised me against taking such a step," Ballack told the Frankurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in early July.
"It's good for a person's overall development. It would also be very interesting for me," he added.
In recent weeks, Ballack has been linked to Inter Milan, Real Madrid and -- most seriously -- to Manchester United. Bayern brass, at first quick to deny reports their star would leave them, have now changed their tune.
Uli Hoeness says Ballack feels at home in Munich.
Club manager Uli Hoeness said recently that they would not go to the limit to keep Ballack after his contract runs out in the summer of 2006.
"It's important for us, that athletic success is combined with sound business judgement," said Hoeness in an interview with Bavarian television. "The point at which we say 'no' can come."
Bayern, Ballack agent to meet in coming weeks
Hoeness told the tabloid Bild on July 11 that he thinks Ballack feels at home in Munich.
"He is part of an intact team with a lot of potential," he said. "He gets the respect that he feels he deserves and as far as the financial side of things are concerned, he certainly won't end up on the streets if he's here."
Íf Ballack wants to go, he should go, says Magath.
The Bayern manager said that he would meet with Ballack agent Michael Becker in the next two weeks to discuss a contract extension. After his contract runs out in June 2006, Ballack can transfer to any club he wishes and Bayern won't get a cent.
The fact has fueled speculation that Bayern will want to get rid of Ballack now, if the midfielder refuses a contract extension, and get a transfer fee. Bayern paid Leverkusen 12.9 million euros ($15.5 million) for Ballack in 2003. Bayern coach Felix Magath said that Ballack better decide whether to sign for Bayern in the coming weeks.
"Mediocre" to Pele, world-class to ManU, others
Many teams have expressed interest in Ballack over the years. Pele once said that the tough midfielder, born in East Germany, was a "mediocre" player and not a star. But there is no doubt that many would want Ballack's precision passing, goal-scoring ability and grit.
Though Ballack is not a classic midfield playmaker, he scores more goals than most.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the successful coach of Manchester United, has reportedly been a distant admirer of Ballack for some time. Ferguson is eager to find someone who at least comes close to the tenacity, competitiveness and experience of current captain Roy Keane, who will turn 34 in August and will likely retire soon.
"We need somebody with experience to complete the nucleus of young players like (Alan) Smith, (Wayne) Rooney and (Cristiano) Ronaldo, that we already have," Ferguson said, without mentioning Ballack specifically.
Manchester United will reportedly discuss a deal with Bayern officials in Japan at the end of the month when both sides are there for pre-season friendlies.
Ballack hasn't given any serious indication which teams or leagues he would prefer, though he mentioned Real Madrid would be an attractive landing spot. In fact, he has taken a rather relaxed approach to all the recent buzz surrounding his future.
"I've always made the right decisions so far," he said. "I'm now playing at a top European club and still have the chance to play abroad."