Former Germany soccer captain Michael Ballack retires

Former Germany captain Michael Ballack is ending his football career. Ballack announced his retirement on Tuesday, having been without a club since his contract with Bayer Leverkusen expired at the end of last season.
Michael Ballack played 98 games for Germany before being pushed out after missing the 2010 World Cup with an injury. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

Former Germany captain Michael Ballack retired from football on Tuesday, leaving the game without a major international title despite being the defining German player of his generation.

Ballack has been without a club since his contract with Bayer Leverkusen expired at the end of last season, and his decision to retire came after he failed to reach an agreement with the Western Sydney Wanderers about a move to the Australian A-League.

"At 36, I look back at a long and wonderful time in professional football," Ballack said in a statement released by his lawyer's office. "It was a privilege to work together with first-rate coaches and fantastic teammates."

Ballack said he would miss the experience of playing at packed stadiums and and scoring goals, "but the last months without football showed me that it was time to stop."

"I look forward to a new chapter in my life," Ballack said, and thanked his family "and all the great people" for their support during his career.

The former midfielder played 98 games and scored 42 goals — many of them decisive — for Germany before being pushed out after missing the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with an ankle injury.

With coach Joachim Loew seeking to introduce younger players into the squad, he decided not to call up his former captain again after a public feud. Ballack declined an offer to make a farewell appearance for the team.

Paying tribute

Loew paid tribute to Ballack on Tuesday, calling him "a great footballer who is known around the world."

"In the national team I always valued Michael as a pillar and a very good player with excellent qualities. He was always dominant on the field and did everything for success," Loew said.

Ballack drew a yellow card in the semifinal of the 200 World Cup to protect the German goal even though he was aware that the booking would rule him out of the final. Germany lost the final 2-0 to Brazil.

He was bitterly disappointed when Germany failed to win the World Cup at home four years later after losing to Italy in the semifinal.

Ballack, struggling with an injury, also could not prevent Germany from losing the 2008 European Championship final to Spain.

He also lost two Champions League finals, one with Bayern Munich and one with Chelsea.

Ballack began his career in former East Germany and played for Kaiserslautern, Leverkusen and Bayern in the Bundesliga before moving to Chelsea. He then returned to Leverkusen but failed to make a big impact in two seasons and was not offered a new contract.

He won one Bundesliga championship with Kaiserslautern and three with Bayern, as well as one Premier League title with Chelsea. He was Germany's player of the year three times.

"Michael Ballack was an extraordinary player, who made a huge contribution to German football," German football federation president Wolfgang Niersbach said. "He had outstanding performances in the national team over many years, and his World Cup in 2002 in Japan and South Korea will remain unforgettable for us."