Ballack's £121,000 a week (after tax)
Tuesday 16 May 2006
With an easy urbanity and an even more assured sense of confidence, Michael Ballack yesterday settled into life as the Premiership's highest-paid footballer by dismissing the merits of Manchester United over Chelsea and declaring his main aim in coming to England was to win the Champions' League over domestic trophies.
The 29-year-old German has agreed a three-year deal with Chelsea on a free transfer from Bayern Munich. The split, after four seasons in Bavaria, has been as acrimonious as it is lucrative for Ballack, who will add a seven-figure signing-on fee - spread over the duration of his contract - to his substantial salary. The deal is thought to work out at £121,000 a week. After tax.
But Ballack denied the move was about money - "in any league I could have earned well", he said - and insisted that it was purely about sporting ambition and trying out life in another country. England was his destination because of its burgeoning competitiveness - the midfielder cited Liverpool winning the European Cup last season and Arsenal being in the final this - over other nations he had considered where he could play football "in the sun".
Ballack was hardly short of suitors. Both here and elsewhere. "Manchester United came in quite early for me," he said. "But really I saw the possibilities of Chelsea being much greater. It's a stronger team and also London has its attractions especially as I have a family. In the final analysis Chelsea's aims for the coming years were attractive."
He was, nevertheless, reminded of a clash he had with John Terry in the tunnel after Chelsea had knocked Bayern out of the Champions' League. "I've heard the reports on that," the unflappable Ballack said. "But you have to remember he's Chelsea's captain and representative and I've a lot of respect for him as a world-class player.
"But the game is about winning and the will to win. I wanted to win and losing to Chelsea was hard. But these things happen. It's like 'mind games'. You just have to think back to the Vieira-Keane incident. It's all part of football. John Terry is a great player and in some ways we are quite similar. We are both fighters. I don't see there being any problem." Indeed that "fighting spirit" attracted him to Stamford Bridge. Ballack was equally clear in dealing with the issue of exactly where he fits into the team - and whether he faces a rivalry with Frank Lampard.
"Frank Lampard and myself play in roughly the same position and Frank's got a great responsibility at Chelsea with the number of goals he's scored," said Ballack, who scored 14 times last season and has been a prolific contributor throughout his career. "I can help share the burden. I am quite flexible - I can play at the back, the front of midfield, and that flexibility is in the side as well."
It's likely that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will vary his formation. The 4-3-3 will survive at times, with Michael Essien as Claude Makelele's understudy, flanked by Ballack and Lampard. Alternatively fans can expect a 4-4-1-1 formation with Ballack as a second striker, and also a diamond in midfield with either player at its tip. The rest of the Premiership beware. Mourinho, clearly, wants options. "Jose knows my strengths and the goals I score from midfield," Ballack said. "That's what we have to base things on."
Ballack talked of his conversations with Mourinho although few others have described the Portuguese - who carried out a bizarre little Q&A with himself yesterday - as a "jolly chap". Ballack's other observations on Mourinho were more standard. "He's also a manager who wants to win," he said. "Although he's quite young he's achieved a lot and even though this team has world-class players they still look up to Mourinho. We talked about that and progressing further in the Champions' League."
It is a competition that the three-times German footballer of the year, with three Bundesliga titles and three German FA Cups, has not won. He lost in the final with Bayer Leverkusen and clearly feels his chances have improved with joining his new club. "One of the prime reasons I came to Chelsea was the Champions' League," he said. "I see them as a big chance of making that step forward." Ballack disclosed that he had spoken to the club's owner, Roman Abramovich and that the two had talked in Russian (the player studied the language at school). He also spoke to Germany's coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and to German players in the Premiership about the move. Unsurprisingly everyone was enthusiastic.
There is just one vexed issue. Ballack always wears the No 13 shirt. At Chelsea it's occupied by William Gallas. A new home strip is unveiled in July. So which number will Ballack sport? The question was side-stepped but it may be academic. As he arrives, Gallas is set to leave, of course. The shirt will soon be his.
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