Home and Away: Michael Ballack

Continuing our feature speaking to former Chelsea players about their experiences representing the club either at home or in away games, we turn to a famous German international.

With the Blues in action at Stamford Bridge this weekend, it is Michael Ballack’s memories of playing in our stadium we seek, and they include some big European nights, some title challenges, and he also speaks about playing Arsenal in the past and in the present…

 

When you joined Chelsea back in 2006, you had to wait for a month into the season to make your home debut due to injury. You must have been very keen to get going there by then?

‘Yes, and I think I scored my first goal against Werder Bremen, is that right?’


Yes, in your second home game.

‘I remember my first goal well, it was something special because I knew Frank [Lampard] was the penalty taker and there was Didier [Drogba] as well, but I was used to taking penalties so I took the ball and I hammered it into the back of the net. It was not saveable! It was 2-0, it was a great moment, a great feeling of course.’


Do those Champions League nights at Stamford Bridge especially stick in the memory?

‘There were a few. Against Liverpool 4-4 was special, also the 3-2 against them the year before. I remember that was quite tight. They are special games because it is evening and because it is Champions League, with the anthem, and of course the fans they know it is something special for them as well compared with a normal league game.

‘It was always this half-empty stadium at the warm-up because the fans have quite a late entrance to the stadiums, so you go in the dressing room and the stadium is half empty and then you come out again and suddenly there is an amazing atmosphere and it is full. That is really typical for English stadiums which is a bit unusual for players but you know it is getting full in five minutes because people are taking drinks outside. It is cool.’
 

How else did playing in a stadium in England compare with German ones?

‘I had played at Stamford Bridge before with Bayern Munich, we lost there 4-2, and I knew Highbury before, stadiums that were right in the middle of the city. The crowd was always very close to the pitch and that was the biggest difference from German stadiums then. Most of those had a track around the pitch and a little bit of distance between the fans and the pitch.

‘So in England there was this special atmosphere and I am sure that all the players love to play in English stadiums because of that typical atmosphere and the closeness to the fans, and so it was for me as well. It was pretty cool.’


Another Champions League night at the Bridge that everyone remembers is of course the Barcelona semi-final in 2009…

‘I didn’t want to choose the negative but it was one of the most heated. There were a few situations with the penalty appeals and the last-minute goal which knocked us out. We were really in a good shape and expectations were high and the team looked really strong, and with the decision of the referee, the stadium was really cooking. But unfortunately not a good ending!’
 

Let’s look back at big Premier League games at Stamford Bridge. Towards the end of the 2007/08 season, before we played them in the Champions League final, we hosted Man United…

‘It was under Avram and we still had a good chance to win the league, especially playing against our direct opponent. I remember that game because Frank was not playing and I was feeling more responsibility in midfield so I was very pleased that I could score twice, with a header and then a penalty in something like the 86th minute. Carrick got the ball on the hand and of course they were complaining but the referee decided a penalty.

‘It was fantastic for me, it was a nice sunny evening and the first goal, it was a typical one for me. In the past I scored a lot of goals like this, waiting outside the box a bit with the attack on the right. I think Didier crossed the ball and I came from the back and scored with the header. It was one of the best games for me in my Chelsea career.’ The headed goal is the third in the video below…


Your last Chelsea home game felt like one big party, the day in 2010 we won the Premier League by beating Wigan.

‘It was very comfortable, not just that match but for the last four weeks of that season I felt it looked so easy for us. We were playing such good football, such comfortable, dominating football and we scored a lot of goals in that period, with the 8-0 of course in the last match. We demonstrated how much we deserved the league in 2010. Things were going well on a technical level, that was a fantastic period.’ 


How about playing at Christmas at Stamford Bridge?

‘I was used to having a break over Christmas from Germany so it was something new for me. Playing through the holidays, especially when you are playing for a national team and in the Champions League, it is quite tough. But teams always tried to change and to rotate in that period because something can be decided in that 10 days or 12 days.

‘It is a lot of football but I can understand that the fans love it because they have time off, they have holidays, but we have family too. Once we were at Cobham and we were going to play on 1st January and we celebrated the New Year at Cobham after training and we had to move to the hotel and stay overnight. It was a pretty strange situation but we had to accept it because the schedule was like that.’
 

After leaving Chelsea, you came back to play at Stamford Bridge in the 2011/12 season with Bayer Leverkusen…

‘That was really nice because it was a really warm welcome from Chelsea fans and playing at Chelsea was really special. We did a pretty good match, myself as well, but the coach took me off after 60 minutes. Obviously it was a big mistake! The welcome was really nice, with a little presentation to me on the pitch.’


This weekend, Chelsea play Arsenal at the Bridge…

‘They were always special games for me because Arsenal are a good club to be playing against but I always felt at that time we were mentally stronger and we were the better team. The statistics from that time show some good wins for us, but we also lost to them.

‘Now with Chelsea playing Arsenal this season, it is a situation where you can put a rival in trouble with a big victory, and I think the team and especially the fans are always excited when it comes to Chelsea v Arsenal.’
 

Do Chelsea look in good shape to you?

‘It was a difficult start, no one could expect a home defeat against Burnley, but they came back in shape immediately, and in the Champions League midweek it looked really good. The expectations are there. The different rhythm to the season is coming now with the Champions League but after a few months you will see how the team can handle that and I think on paper, Chelsea at home is the favourite this weekend. Hopefully they can get the three points.’