Midfielder Michael Ballack led Germany to the 2002 World Cup final against Brazil. ((Oliver Lang/Getty Images))


Born: Sept. 26, 1976, in Gorlitz, East Germany

Position: Midfielder

Nickname: Kleine Kaiser (Little Emperor), a reference to German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer, who was known as the "Kaiser" during his playing career.

Clubs played for: Ballack debuted for hometown side Chemnitz, a second division club, in 1995. He was transferred to Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern in 1997, and then to Bayer Leverkusen two years later, helping the team reach the final of the 2002 UEFA Champions League. Ballack moved to Bayern Munich that same year. He signed with English outfit Chelsea in 2006 and has remained with the club since.

International career: Ballack joined the German under-21 squad in 1996, before graduating to the senior side. He guided Germany to the final of the 2002 World Cup (which the Germans lost to Brazil) and the Euro 2008 final against Spain (another German loss). Ballack was named captain of Germany's national team in 2004, and was a standout player for his country when it hosted the 2006 World Cup, losing to Italy in the semifinals.

Why is he so special? An elegant midfielder who carries the ball with style and grace, Ballack serves as Germany's general on the field - everything flows through him. The midfield playmaker is strong with both feet, makes darting runs into the penalty area with the ball, and can score goals with the best of them. The backbone of the German attack.

His most famous moment: Scoring the winning goal against South Korea in the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.

He said it: "It is still an honour to play for the national team - it is the biggest honour which a player can achieve."

What they're saying about him: "He could become the greatest German player ever. I played against Beckenbauer, Netzer and Overath, but Ballack is the most complete." - Klaus Toppmoller, former Bayer Leverkusen manager

Here's an interesting fact: 2002 was a rough year for Ballack: On top of Germany losing the World Cup final, Ballack's Bayer Leverkusen finished second in the Bundesliga, lost in the finals of both the German Cup and the UEFA Champions League.