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FOOTBALL

Discussion over Ballack’s place in national team intensifies

Speculation over the future of injured national football team captain Michael Ballack intensified over the weekend after the side managed to win its first match in the Euro 2012 qualification campaign without him.

Discussion over Ballack's place in national team intensifies
Ballack and Löw. Photo: DPA

Coach Joachim Löw said on Sunday Ballack remained in his plans for the team despite his continued absence – which is expected to last past Tuesday’s second qualifying match against Azerbaijan in Cologne.

Ballack is still trying to regain fitness after a long period off the pitch following an ankle injury which put him out of this summer’s World Cup in South Africa. He has also transferred from Chelsea to Bayer Leverkusen, for whom he has played once during this new Bundesliga season.

The 33-year-old has been replaced by Sami Khedira in midfield for the national side, but Löw said there was still a place for Ballack.

“I hope the team continues to grow, and that certainly includes Michael,” Löw told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

He has already confirmed that Ballack would regain the captaincy from Philipp Lahm when he returns to the national side, despite the fact that he is not yet fit enough to play for his country.

“We must acknowledge that Michael is not yet able to help us, that was clear in his first match (for Bayer Leverkusen) since his ankle injury. Our team progressed enormously during the World Cup, some players like Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger raised their game. But I thought about it calmly and it was clear that Michael should remain captain.”

He would not comment on whether Ballack would return to the national team for next month’s matches against Turkey and Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile former national goalkeeper Oliver Kahn criticised Löw’s management of the Ballack question.

He favoured the idea of, “a 100 percent strong captain, which has the acceptance of the team, is a regular player and is the spokesman of the trainer,” Kahn told Der Spiegel magazine on Saturday.

The tactic of confirming Ballack as captain, but his degradation to a player without a firm place in the team, was not systematic enough, said Kahn.

A number of observers saw Löw’s lengthy hesitation in making a firm statement on Ballack as an attempt to force him to resign from the national team.

With Ballack’s position in the team no longer a given even when he is again fully fit, Khedira said he would challenge Ballack for the place in midfield, he said.

“Michael Ballack had the same rights to it as I do, to be there and to place. It is a purely sporting competition,” he said.

Theo Zwanziger, president of the German Football Federation, DFB, said he welcomed the rise of younger players.

“That is a healthy competitive situation, which every performance athlete must accept,” he said, adding it was completely normal that the situation with Ballack be carefully examined.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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