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Friday, May 16, 2008

Ballack And Mourinho News

Ballack On Mourinho, Envy And Moscow

Jose Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea at the beginning of this season after coming out on the losing end with the powers that be at Stamford Bridge, this despite turning them into a footballing superpower for the first time in their history, with successive Premier League wins and an enviable haul of the Carling and FA Cups.

The one prize that eluded him - at least with Chelsea - was the Champions League, as he was knocked out of the competition twice at the semi-final stage by Liverpool, and once by Barcelona in the quarterfinals.

The relatively unknown and understated Avram Grant - formerly director of football at the club - took over from Mourinho, to the behest of the supporters. However, having quietly gone about his job, he took them to the final day in the league title race with Manchester United, finishing second, and face the same team in the Champions League final - Chelsea's first - on May 21.

A major player in this late-season push has been Michael Ballack. Since signing for the club on a free in 2006, he has failed to live up to his reputation as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, but has pulled out almost all the stops in recent weeks, displaying sheer world class game after game for the Blues.

When asked how much credit for Chelsea's current success goes to Mourinho, without giving a straight answer, he suggested that he believes the Special One deserves ample praise.

Speaking to Stern magazine, he opined: "Jose Mourinho, the manager from Portugal, put this team together shortly before he was fired – would a Champions League victory also be his victory? You should put that question to our manager Avram Grant."

When asked when he had last spoken to infamous club owner Roman Abramovich, he revealed it was in March, after the Carling Cup final defeat to Tottenham Hotspur that had many calling for Grant's head.

"That was in March, after the final of the Carling Cup," he revealed. "I wasn't the one who asked for an appointment. [We talked] about football, of course. He has the goal of making us the best team in Europe. And so I assume that if we beat Man United in Moscow then Roman Abramovich will be a happy man."

Tremendous Energy

Ballack insists that, despite the incredible finances shelled out to put this team together, it was one that is still in the process of being built.

"Our style of play is different to that of Manchester, our game has a tremendous energy," he continued. "If our team could get some fine-tuning then things would look good for the next couple of years. As a team we're still in a development stage.

"You have to understand that the club has only been playing at this high level in Europe for a few years. And as yet it hasn't developed the typical Chelsea style.

"You have to win titles, titles, titles. That's the only way to start a tradition. We have to work to win their favour."


He has also shrugged off the waves of criticism the Blues receive from football fans for the vast fortune they have at their disposal. "You do notice the envy, but after all it's the same in other clubs. The only difference is: Roman Abramovich was one of the first to invest his own private fortune into a football club. But look at Manchester United, Liverpool or Manchester City - they have the same structure of ownership. That's the reality in the strongest league in the world."

With the Champions League in sight, Chelsea will fancy themselves, having had the most recent bragging rights when considering head-to-head meetings between the two clubs.

Their 2-1 win in April put the title race right in the balance, but United's significant advantage on goal difference proved to be decisive, as on the final day, once the Red Devils took a 2-0 lead at Wigan Athletic, Chelsea knew even if they held on for their win against Bolton Wanderers, it would mean nothing. A scrappy, last-minute goal saw them finish the game level, a goal apiece.

Ballack insists that was "expected" - contrary to words from the likes of team-mate John Obi Mikel - and that he is now focused on Moscow, insisting this is his side's year, after already being on the losing side in a final once in his career, when playing for Bayer Leverkusen and losing 2-1 to Real Madrid in 2002, courtesy of a Zinedine Zidane wonder-goal.

"Unfortunately, that was to be expected, and we aren't too disappointed," he said of United's title win. "But you go into the Champions League season every year and you say to yourself: this year is our year."

He continued, adding that he has adapted his game to force himself into the Blues' starting line-up: "I've learned a lot in these two years with Chelsea. Tougher on myself? I probably have been, but mainly I've become tougher on the other players.

"In training, for example, when you feel your position on the team is in danger then you have to be fully focused. And if needs be, you send a clear signal saying: I'm not going to budge one inch.

Six Captains

"It's different at Chelsea. We have six captains from national teams on our side: Terry for England, Drogba for the Ivory Coast, Shevchenko for the Ukraine, Cech for the Czech Republic, Pizarro for Peru and me for Germany, as well as quite a few top international players.

"It goes without saying that everyone is forced to show some restraint so as not to jeopardise our success. But you have to face the challenge. You have to make people sit up and take notice of you otherwise you just go under in a team like this, you're just devoured by the machine. And so I've become more ruthless."

He concluded on a fairly heartfelt and personal note: "I wanted to play with all these stars – come hell or high water. Just to be able to prove that I could meet the challenge was well worth the battle for me. And now I can say: whatever happens, I've accomplished something.

"At the same time, I was never worried that I wouldn't succeed. During my time out due to injury, all I kept thinking was about getting better. And there were quite a few days when it was difficult not to give up hope.

"I desperately want to win this trophy. I don't want to look back on my career at some point and say, what a pity, I came close a few times, but it was never good enough."

Chet Winter,

Mourinho happy to play waiting game
Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho admits he has rejected offers from around 10 clubs since being out of work because he was not prepared to see his career “take a step backwards”.Mourinho, who parted company with the Blues in September, recently said he was ready to return to management after eight months out of the game.Mourinho has been linked with jobs at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona, but all three clubs now seem to have coaches in place for next season.Inter coach Roberto Mancini looks set to stay at the club after backing down on his threat to quit, while Madrid president Ramon Calderon has said coach Bernd Schuster will stay on and Barca have appointed Josep Guardiola to replace Frank Rijkaard.With three of the biggest vacancies in world football seemingly filled for the foreseeable future, Mourinho insists he is prepared to play the waiting game.

He told Portuguese newspaper A Bola: “Take Marcello Lippi as an example. He was world champion with Italy, now he’s not working, so he’s waiting for a club that’s big enough for him.“As I’m not prepared to take a step back and become a mid-level coach, I’ll either work for a big club or I won’t work. Full stop.“That’s why in these past few months I’ve turned down – I don’t know – eight, nine or 10 clubs, because I wasn’t prepared to take a step backwards.”Despite failing to attract offers from top-level clubs in Spain and Italy, the Portuguese reiterated his desire to coach in one of those leagues.He said: “Right now I have one priority: I would like to coach in either the Spanish or Italian championship, as these are the strongest in the world.”
Ballack enjoying new lease of life
Michael Ballack believes he is better prepared than ever to lead Germany to success at UEFA EURO 2008™ after returning to top form with Chelsea FC in recent months.
Recurring injuryHaving failed to set the Premier League alight during his first year at Stamford Bridge, the former FC Bayern M√ľnchen midfielder suffered a frustrating first half of the present campaign as he struggled with a recurring ankle problem. Since returning in December, however, the 31-year-old has become an increasingly important figure in west London: his double against Manchester United FC last month almost tilted the Premier League title in Chelsea's favour, and Sir Alex Ferguson's men will be keeping a particularly close eye on the playmaker in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League final.

'I was distraught'
The past six months have witnessed a dramatic turnaround for Ballack who hopes to cap off his resurgence by winning silverware with both club and country in the coming weeks. "It was a really tough time for me," Ballack said of his eight-month spell on the sidelines. "The expectations [in England] were huge and I couldn't show people what I was capable of. I was distraught but I fought back and fortunately things are going well now. I'm back in the final of the Champions League and I'm in good form for EURO 2008™."

Near misses
Ballack helped Germany to the runners-up spot at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and a third-place finish on home soil four years later. Those campaigns reflect a long, successful career in which the former 1. FC Kaiserslautern player has won a host of domestic prizes yet suffered several near misses on the European and international scenes. Having been part of the Bayer 04 Leverkusen side that lost in the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League final, Ballack can start to set that record straight in Moscow next week before turning his attentions to the national team's plight this summer.

'More mature'
He believes the difficulties he has had to overcome at Chelsea have made him a stronger player, ensuring he is better equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. "I have become more mature in England," Ballack explained. "I had to get accustomed to the Premier League, which challenges you physically more than the Bundesliga. This Premier League is the measuring stick for every other league."

'Great chance'
Ballack's fine form has fuelled considerable optimism in Germany, and the man who has scored 35 goals in 79 internationals believes such confidence is justified. "We were strong in qualification and we're in good form now," he said. "If we can keep those performances going then we have a good chance of reaching the [UEFA EURO 2008™] final and winning it. But there is still a long way to go to get there."
Ballack happy to end career at Chelsea
Chelsea's midfield star Michael Ballack has ruled out another big transfer in his career and set his sights on a historic Champions League triumph in Moscow against Manchester United.
“For ten years, I've been playing in the UEFA Champions League, and I want to win the competition,” he tells the latest issue of Champions, The Official Magazine of the UEFA Champions League.
Ballack, 31, who has played a crucial role in Chelsea's fight for the Premiership title and the road to Moscow, also ruled out another big transfer move.
“That isn't part of the plan – but it wouldn't bother me either. I do believe, though, that the most important transfers are behind me.
“The decisions a footballers makes at 18 or 23 are the important ones. I can't make any especially big moves any more.”
And despite the injuries which have limited his appearances for The Blues he does not regret his move to Stamford Bridge.
“If you do a 5000m run you're a lot slower by yourself than running in a group because you get pulled along during the tough parts. You only develop if you have good players next to you and when every game is a challenge.
“When I was with Bayern, I won the double three times in four years and then we were eliminated early on in the Champions League. I wasn't excited any more about winning the German championship yet again. I was looking for a new challenge.”
He added: “I'm a player who goes into what they call the 'gaps' in England. I stand in midfield, play passes, run after the ball, get into the penalty box. Just like Frank Lampard does alongside me.”
He also paid tribute to the standards of football in England. “In England they play more direct, faster and more deliberately than in all the other European leagues.
“When you get the ball it has to go to the front right away. There is constant pushing, even when you're ahead, otherwise you hear and fell a grumbling in the stadium.
“And when you have the ball, they're more aggressive – but of course you also have to be more aggressive yourself. Our game wasn't really that focused me at first. There were other dominant players.”
Ballack says that the presence of three English clubs in the Champions League semi-finals makes England rule the football world but says foreign players have made a big impact.
“The foreign players raise the standards in the Premiership considerably but they also play the English way: powerfully, forcefully and with determination,” he said.
His team-mate Michael Essien revealed he nodded off watching Manchester United's Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. “I was enjoying it, but the sleep just came. I couldn't help it.”
He also paid tribute to United's hitman Paul Scholes saying: “He's a little boy, but he can really shoot.”
Essien added: “All I think about is my team – and to win. We don't play good football, we have to win. Like the Liverpool game, what mattered was the win. In the end we put down a good performance and won it as well.”
The Ghanaian-born player, who has scored several spectacular goals added: “Before I used to kill people in the stands. Now I'm killing goalkeepers. The passing is better. I'm comfortable now and I read the game much better than I did before.”
Midfielder Claude Makelele has also influenced him in improving his role. “He's always talking to me and teaching me how to do it. He's our grandfather. Our great grandfather! A really funny guy and always smiling to everybody.”