Michael Ballack has told The Independent that the Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, did not agree with the club's decision to release him last summer, and the Italian was surprised when it happened.
Ballack was one of five senior players who left Stamford Bridge in the wake of Chelsea's Premier League and FA Cup Double, the most successful season in the club's history. The 34-year-old Germany international signed a two-year deal with his former side Bayer Leverkusen and is currently recovering from a broken shin bone suffered in only his third game back with the club.
Ballack accepted the decision taken by the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, to overhaul the club's playing staff at the end of last season, a move which also saw Joe Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, Juliano Belletti and Deco leave in a cost-cutting measure that is estimated to have trimmed £20m from the annual wage bill.
But he has revealed that Ancelotti was not in agreement with Abramovich over the clear-out, which has left Chelsea short of cover now that John Terry, Frank Lampard and Alex are all sidelined with serious injuries. Ballack claims Ancelotti had wanted him to stay. He said: "I had the feeling that when we spoke about it that he wanted to keep me but it became different. And that was the situation."
Chelsea announced the decision in early June, and days later Ballack, who was on holiday in America, met Ancelotti for lunch in Miami. The midfielder refused to reveal what was said but admitted that the manager had been taken by surprise by the club's action.
"We had lunch together. That was the time when the club told me that we would not sign a new contract," Ballack said. "Yeah, we spoke about this and I had the feeling that he was a little bit surprised but in the end, that's football, and that's what I said.
"It had nothing to do with the relationship with me and the coach or the players or the club. I am professional enough to accept the decision. I have to move on and the club has to move on."
The events of last summer have taken on greater significance in the past week, in the light of Chelsea's 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland on Sunday, the worst result in the seven years since Abramovich bought the club. The injuries to Terry, Lampard and Alex, a three-game ban for Michael Essien, who was sent off against Fulham the week before, and the fact that Didier Drogba has been suffering from malaria have left the champions' squad exposed, ahead of tomorrow's trip to Birmingham City.
The news that Ancelotti disagreed with the decision to end Ballack's four-year spell at Chelsea sheds new light on the decision-making process at Stamford Bridge. It also shows that Chelsea's great benefactor, Abramovich, could also be viewed as the club's biggest liability. The Russian could not resist the urge to change a winning team last summer, spurred on by his disappointment at defeats to Internazionale in last season's Champions League.
That tinkering was in evidence last week with the surprise sacking of the assistant manager Ray Wilkins, made in a phone call during half-time of a reserve-team fixture. Ballack felt for Wilkins. "I spoke to Ray and he was disappointed," he said. "As a former player from the outside it was a surprise because it is the middle of the season and they are in first position [in the Premier League], with all the success of the past year."
The dismissal of Wilkins was swift and brutal, but at least he received a call from the club, which is more than Ballack did. "They just contacted my agent. I have had no direct contact from the club. You can handle this in a different way but it's the way it happened. It's OK," Ballack said.
It seems remarkable that Chelsea did not want to officially thank a senior player who featured in 45 of their 56 games in the Double-winning season. Only Terry, Lampard and Florent Malouda made more appearances in 2009-10. What is more, Ballack picked up an ankle injury playing for Chelsea in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth and had to sit out the World Cup finals.
Ballack, however, is not bitter and he returned to Chelsea last week to watch the 1-0 victory over Fulham. "It was nice to see the boys again, go to the dressing room and say hello to everybody. It was good," he said.
What he saw during his time at Stamford Bridge convinced him that Chelsea will bounce back from the defeat to Sunderland. "I think they will give a reaction. That's how I know the club and the players. They are big players," he said.
Terry's presence will be crucial, Ballack said, even though the captain cannot play because of a chronic nerve injury in his leg. "Do not underestimate the role of John Terry, even in the dressing room," Ballack said. "Even if he is not on the pitch he is still in the squad, he is there every day. When he was injured two years ago, he had a problem with his back, he was travelling to every away game. So he was so close to the team. When I saw this I was really surprised with his role as the captain. It is not normal that the captain is so close to the team.
"Sometimes you have these problems. We had them in the past as well with Chelsea. The job is now for other players to handle this situation, to keep them alive. They are in first position. They need to stay there."
In his absence in June, a youthful Germany side reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and Ballack has yet to decide whether to prolong his international career. "For the moment the goal is to get completely recovered, then I will take a decision," he said. "It is difficult enough for me to cope with two big injures with just a few weeks in between."
His only regret is that Chelsea did not decide his fate earlier, so he could have said goodbye to the supporters at Stamford Bridge. "Normally you would say goodbye in the last game. I know it's over now and we go different ways. It is one thing that makes me, not angry, but disappointed, that the club did not give me the chance to say goodbye to the fans. But that's the only thing," he said.
Michael Ballack is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS, the United Nation's programme on HIV and Aids. He is concerned with raising awareness about HIV prevention, particularly among young people. Every day, more than 7,000 people are infected with HIV. To find out more about HIV prevention, visit: http://on.fb.me/95aBoI
Emenalo, the known unknown, promoted to replace Wilkins
Chelsea have taken the unusual step of promoting their head opposition scout, Michael Emenalo, into the position left vacant after Ray Wilkins' sacking despite the former Nigerian international having little coaching experience and not holding the top qualifications.
The appointment of Emenalo, 45, was announced yesterday by the club with the proviso that he will take his coaching qualifications while he works alongside Carlo Ancelotti. The promotion marks the latest stage in the career of a man who was virtually unknown until Avram Grant plucked him from obscurity in 2007.
Emenalo is understood to have been working at a football academy in Tucson, Arizona, when he was appointed by Grant, who had coached him as a player at Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is thought that Emenalo was coaching junior girls' teams before the call came from Chelsea who first deployed him as a scout.
As a player, he had a brief stint at Notts County and played for Nigeria in the 1994 World Cup finals.
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