Michael Ballack enjoyed a
glittering career which included five domestic league titles, two
Champions League finals and a World Cup runners-up medal. His one
regret? Leaving Chelsea too soon.

One
of the main draws to Chelsea in the summer of 2006 was the chance to
work with the recently self-acclaimed ‘special one’, Jose Mourinho.

The
Portuguese boss had led the club to back-to-back Premier League titles
and, aided by the financial might of Roman Abramovich, was attracting
some of Europe’s greatest to west London.

In the latest episode of Sky Sports’ Transfer Talk
podcast series – available to download, watch and listen to from
Wednesday March 25 – Ballack reveals how he chose the Blues over
Manchester United, plus what caused him to miss out on potential moves
to Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Asked who he spoke to
before signing at Chelsea, Ballack said: “It was important for me to
talk to the coach. You really get caught by his personality and by his
ambitions.

“Working with a coach like that was something
totally new for me. He was impressive and I felt totally comfortable
with the decision.”

But, having lost their league crown to
United in Ballack’s first season in England, Chelsea fell further behind
their rivals at the start of the 2007-08 campaign and Mourinho was
gone.

“I was experienced enough to understand,” Ballack
said. “When you are not winning, the coach is more or less the weakest
person in the team who can be replaced.

“He (Mourinho) was
in his fourth year. If you look at the average time a manager has to
work in a club, it was quite a good time.

“The way he worked was so intense that maybe you come to a point where things are not working anymore.

“Even then, the fans know what he achieved at the club to take them back to that level.

“It was more or less everyone’s fault – the players’ fault. It was not something we regret, though, we had to look forward.

“The relationship is still good with him. You will not find many players who speak badly about him.”

Grant ‘wasn’t weak’; Scolari ‘didn’t work’

Mourinho’s exit set in motion a managerial merry-go-round at Stamford Bridge.

Avram
Grant’s sole season in charge ended with a trio of runners-up places as
United got the better of Chelsea twice more, including – for Ballack –
an agonising Champions League final defeat on penalties in Moscow.

Reflecting
on Grant’s reign, Ballack said: “He never really had a chance. It is
really difficult, after Jose Mourinho, to work at Chelsea. It could
cause a problem for any manager because he had such a relationship with
the players and the fans.

“We played really good football
under him (Grant), we had more freedom. He managed the team in a
different way. Not so, leading the team but more by giving freedom to
the players.

“A lot of players thought he would be weak, but he wasn’t. He was really smart and intelligent.”

Luiz
Felipe Scolari was unable to bring success back to the Bridge and in
February 2009 – with the club sitting fourth in the league, seven points
adrift of leaders United – the Brazilian was sacked.

“The
club made a different decision, in terms of Scolari, which didn’t work
at all,” Ballack said. “He never really got a relationship with the
players.”

Guus Hiddink steadied things but his spell was only temporary, so in came Carlo Ancelotti.

“Carlo was a gentleman and a smart guy, picking up things and seeing how players worked,” Ballack said.

“He found a good combination of being the person of respect but also allowing every player to shine.”

‘Carlo wanted me to stay’

Ancelotti’s first season at Chelsea would be Ballack’s last.

The
club won the Premier League and FA Cup double, but victory over
Portsmouth in the final at Wembley came at a cost for the German.

Yet
to persuade Chelsea’s hierarchy to offer more than a year’s extension
on his expiring contract, Ballack – then 33 – was injured in the
first-half, all-but ending any hopes of a new deal.

“Carlo
want me [to stay] but the club made a decision to only give players of
that age a one-year contract. I wanted two,” Ballack said.

“Today, I can say maybe it was wrong. I should have stayed, even for that one year.

“I
could never imagine that I would go back to [Bayer] Leverkusen. Until
the last day, I actually thought we would find a way at Chelsea. I was
really hoping I could stay until the end.”

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