What I Learned from Michael Ballack

The year had to have been 1998. I remember dragging an old, decrepit, yellow blanket down the stairs from the upper level of the house I lived in. Out of habit, I checked the calendar: the date read October 1. For whatever reason, I had neglected to go to school that day… and I was completely okay with it. I jumped onto the couch, and my elbow hit the remote. The channel changed… as did my life.

My elbow hit the “previous” button and then the “up” arrow and immediately I was catapulted into a sport I had never seen before: here in the States, we call it soccer. The only team I remember playing that day was FC Kaiserslautern and the only player I remember was Michael Ballack.

Since that day, I have been a fan of Michael Ballack. (There was a point where he was at Bayer Leverkusen where I lost track of him, but I managed to find him again when the 2002 World Cup rolled around. I mean, I was 7 when he was transferred. I didn’t know that happened — I was still a newbie to the sport.) I honestly can’t tell you why I like Michael Ballack.

I was too young to know anything about playing style or to think he was hot. I was too new to the sport to understand that, hey, this guy is pretty good at what he does. And I was too young to know that he was making much more money in a year kicking a ball than what my parents will ever make. All that I knew was that I adored him, and I wanted to see more.

When you have followed a particular player for 10 years (hush about the period where I lost him — I count it), you start learning things about them. And in turn, they start teaching you things. I’m not talking about they sit you down and speak directly to you. I’m talking about the type of lessons you can only learn from experience: life lessons, I guess you’d call them. And Michael Ballack began teaching me the first moment I ever watched his feet touch a ball.

So, may I present… what I have learned from Michael Ballack.

1. You will remember your first goal for life.
Alright, so you can learn this from any baller. But I watched Michael Ballack score his first goal for the Bundesliga on October 30, 1998. I still remember it and he still remembers it. But this doesn’t just apply to football: this applies to life. I remember the first contest I ever won, the first piano recital I ever performed in. You always remember your first.

2. If you believe in something, say it.
In interviews, I’ve noticed a couple things about Michael Ballack: he says what he thinks, and he has absolutely no form of self-control on the questions he answers. This is probably most clearly demonstrated with his current snarkfest with Jogi Loew. But he did say something on the situation that he believed needed to have something done with. It wasn’t the best way to handle it, but… at least he did. The fact is, you have a voice, use it. If something needs to be changed, say it.

3. You’re going to get in messes.
Again, this can be illustrated over the current snarkfest he’s in. And I will give them both the blame. For one, I think Jogi blew it way out of proportions and took it a little too personally, but I will also say that Ballack dug himself into a hole. I will give Ballack some credits, though, for trying to claw his way out of it. You’re going to get in messes and you’re going to have to dig yourself. Dig out, apologize for the mess, and move forward. Acceptance evokes change.

4. Go at it with all your heart.
When it comes to life, how you imagine it and how it is doesn’t have to be all that far apart. On Chelsea’s “Blues Banter” section on the website, Michael tells the story of him during high school. He went to a sports high school in East Germany, where they measured a kid’s body to tell him what sport he fit best into. They told him to go to speed skating or volleyball. But he said that he wanted to go to soccer. And look where he ended up — injured, yes, but still playing for a “team of dreams” as my brother would say. Go at life with your all heart and you’ll get there.

5. In the face of adversity, stand proud.
Michael taught me this above everything else and it’s by far been the hardest lesson to accept. I have seen countless interviews or blogs where people say that “Michael is an expensive player for the name, not the talent.” And he still carries on and doesn’t let him down. For awhile, upon injuring himself as soon as he got to Chelsea, he was noted as being by one person, quote, “a waste of money.” But he carried on. Michael has had so many bad things said about him, and yet he carried on. He possesses the most admirable quality I know — the stubborn will to carry on. That may honestly be why I adore him so much.

Nick Hornby said that “Everyone’s life is a story, isn’t it? It’s just how one chooses to tell it that makes it what it is.” You’ve heard my story. We all came from somewhere; our love of soccer came from somewhere. These stories make us who we are. So tell me — what’s your story?

Written by Kailyn LeAnne Conner.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).

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