It will not be known until just before kick-off whether Michael Ballack will start Tuesday evening’s match against Chelsea but whatever the decision of his manager, the former Blues midfielder is anticipating an emotional return toStamford Bridge
The Bundesliga runners-up last season have arrived in London ahead of the opening Champions League group game but their manager, Robin Dutt, is not revealing publicly any details of his team until just before kick-off.
Ballack, who turns 35 later this month and left Chelsea in in the summer of 2010, has played two of Leverkusen’s five league games this season that have taken them to fourth in the table, including an hour of their win on Friday. Whether he starts or not, he will receive a presentation from Chelsea before the game.
‘When I first saw the draw I was really happy for me personally and for the club,’ Ballack says.
‘For me personally it is a very big, very important match, but also for the club it was a very nice draw. I played at Chelsea for four years and it is very nice to be back in London for the first game in the Champions League.
‘The presentation is a very nice gesture and it will be a very emotional moment for me tomorrow. There are still a few players there and some who left in the meantime who I am still friends with and whom I am still in touch with, and also a few of the staff.
‘When I moved to Chelsea it was a big, big challenge and experience for me at the time to play with so many good players. If I look back I had a very good time. I feel always welcomed by the fans and the club. They treat me always very well and we had success.
‘It could have been a few titles more,’ he notes, ‘we missed a few chances, but we had some successes and I will remember this always and it is a big part of my career.’
Choosing one moment that sticks in his memory more than the others is an impossible task for the former Germany captain, but he can narrow the choice down to three.
‘My injury right at the start because in the end I missed seven months and it was quite a difficult period for me.
‘The second memory is the Champions League Final with the penalty shoot-out that will haunt all of us for ever.
‘The third was winning the League and the Cup in the last year. After trailing to Man United for three years, winning two titles in the last year was great.’
Turning his attention from the past to the near future and Tuesday’s game, Ballack acknowledges that he has a big part to play in preparing what is a generally young and inexperienced Leverkusen team.
‘It is just a game of football although we are aware there are some big names on the other side,’ he says. ‘We will have our chances.’
‘Chelsea have not started like last year but you can’t start every year like last year. Especially in the last game against Sunderland they looked in a good shape, very strong and confident, so that makes it not easy for us.
‘They have great individual players but as a team it is maybe not the worst thing to play them now because the season has just started, but we will know more after the game.’
Leverkusen manager Dutt will make a decision on the fitness of midfielder Lars Bender after his final training session. He is expected to play. On the Ballack choice Dutt says:
‘I have already decided and I have told Michael but everyone will have to wait a bit longer to find out.
‘He is very experienced and it would be foolish not to use that experience, and he has shown in the Bundesliga that he is in very good form, but I want to leave a bit of doubt for the opposing manager.’
That manager in opposition is of course Andre Villas-Boas whom Ballack is not surprised to see in the job.
‘In my time at Chelsea I had a few coaches and sometimes they changed them maybe a little too quick but what is surprising is he is a very young coach,’ says the German.
‘When people talk about him they talk most of the time about his age but he showed his quality when even in this young age he won with Porto a European trophy which is unusual.
‘It is not surprising that Chelsea had their eye on him always, he worked there before in the background and he did a lot of important stuff for Jose Mourinho. Now he is in a main position as a coach and when he is talking you can see he is totally accepted by the club and the players and that is the most important thing.’