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Ballack chooses Leverkusen unveiling to stoke captaincy feud

Michael Ballack chose his first press conference since re-joining Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen as the stage to launch another broadside on Philipp Lahm over the captaincy of the German national team.

German soccer player Michael Ballack is seen during a news conference in Leverkusen, Germany, on Wednesday, July 14, 2010, where he is presented as new player of German first league soccer club Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Ballack's return to Germany has been controversial

It's becoming debatable whether anyone outside of Michael Ballack's new club Bayer Leverkusen is happy that the German midfielder has returned home after four years in England.

Since being released by Chelsea at the end of last season and being ruled out of the World Cup through injury, Ballack has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, with colleagues at international level the main focus of his ill-chosen words.

On Wednesday, Ballack took the opportunity of his first press conference since returning to Bayer Leverkusen to take the simmering feud between himself and German defender Philipp Lahm to a new public level. Rather than devoting his allotted time to his hopes for his Bundesliga return at the club where he was a player from 1999 to 2002, Ballack launched a new broadside at Lahm in the ongoing argument over who should be the captain of the German national team.

"I am the captain of the national team," said Ballack, who relinquished the armband for the World Cup due to his injury-related absence. "Philipp Lahm made his claim at a moment that I felt was inopportune. I was injured and couldn't defend myself."

"This is not an issue for me. I am the captain," Ballack reiterated. "A player can't request what position he wants to play - and it is the same with the captaincy. One should respect that there are hierarchies. I'm going to talk to Philipp about this."

Captaincy row growing more undignified

Germany's team captain Philipp Lahm gestures during a news conference in Erasmia, near Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 1, 2010.

Lahm was Germany's captain at the 2010 World Cup

Lahm was made captain for the World Cup tournament in South Africa in which Germany performed strongly and finished third. During the tournament, the Bayern defender went on the record as saying that he would not hand back the captaincy voluntarily and would only do so if told to by coach Joachim Loew. Loew has remained silent on the topic throughout the row.

It is also alleged that Lahm and Ballack, who was visiting the team in South Africa ahead of the semi-finals, clashed over the captaincy at Germany's World Cup camp, leading to Ballack's leaving the country. Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff tried to play down the incident by saying Ballack had to return to Europe for further treatment on his injured ankle.

Ballack's handling of the disagreement with Lahm has led some observers to question whether he can continue as captain, with some suggesting that his public outbursts have been undignified and not befitting a leader of the national team. Others have gone as far to say that Chelsea's disposal of Ballack, the lack of big-name European clubs vying for his signature and his inability to feature at the World Cup have wounded his pride.

The feud over the captaincy has also led to division among the players with Bastian Schweinsteiger taking Ballack's side in a statement made over the weekend. "For me, it is Ballack who is the captain. Philipp took on the role solely because Michael was injured," Schweinsteiger told the daily Die Welt.

Questions over Ballack's international future

Michael Ballack celebrates after the World Cup group 4 qualifying soccer match between Germany and Wales, in Moenchengladbach, Germany.

Some experts say Ballack should stand aside for youth

Ballack also made it clear that he has no intention of retiring from the international set-up despite claims by former players such as Lothar Matthaeus and Uli Hoeness that the Germany team didn't miss him in South Africa and that he should stand aside to allow the young and successful team to develop without him. "I don't mean that in a spiteful way," said Matthaeus recently. "But Ballack was arguably holding back a number of players who've now blossomed."

The 33-year-old Ballack, who has 98 caps to his name and has captained the national team since 2004, has said that he intends to keep playing at international level until the European Championships in 2012.

Ballack was also indirectly involved in another controversial incident involving the Germany team when his agent, Michael Becker, made comments about a "bunch of gays" in the national set-up.

Ballack's agent in homosexual claims

the Germany team pose for pictures prior to the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Argentina and Germany at the Green Point stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, Saturday, July 3, 2010.

Becker's claims have shook the Germany national team

Becker, who has represented Ballack for over a decade, made the comments in a recent interview with Der Spiegel magazine in which he suggested that Loew's young side included a number of homosexual players. He also suggested that the team's delicate, less aggressive approach cost Germany a place in the final.

Becker also said that a former national player was ready to reveal the "bunch of gays" in the German team.

Ballack himself has yet to make any statement to distance himself from his agent's claims although officials at his new club were quick to make their stance clear: "At Bayer Leverkusen we have absolutely no resentment towards homosexuals," a statement read.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

DW.DE