It’s 16 years since Michael Ballack was involved in a relegation scrap – when his first club Chemnitzer FC were demoted to the German third division – but that didn’t discourage Mark Hughes from attempting to bring Ballack back to West London in January to lead QPR’s battle with the drop.
No move materialised last month but, two years after the former German skipper departed Chelsea to head back to Bayer Leverkusen, Hughes has been alerted to the renewed possibility of recruiting the vastly-experienced midfielder.
Ballack’s two-year contract at Leverkusen runs out in June, and it’s been widely reported that the 35-year-old is keen to become the latest big-name to join the European exodus to the States.
MLS franchises including Chicago, Philadelphia and Thierry Henry’s New York are said to be interested, while nouveau-riche clubs in China and Russia that have persuaded the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Guus Hiddink to uproot could well pique Ballack’s interest.
Ballack has made 14 appearances this season, scoring twice, but missed the midweek Champions League loss to Barcelona with a hamstring injury and had only been an unused sub in Leverkusen’s three prior league games before that.
And despite agent Michael Becker stating that his client would not be leaving before the summer, noises from Leverkusen this week suggest otherwise.
Leverkusen CEO Wolfgang Holzhauser told the German press: “Our contract with Ballack runs until June 30. If he wants to get out early, we can certainly discuss that.”
With QPR 11/10 for the drop, only out of the bottom three on goal difference having lost their previous two games to relegation rivals Blackburn and Wolves, Hughes will know that among his side’s weaknesses is an inability to reap due rewards from sustained possession.
QPR dominated possession away at Blackburn (60/40) and even had more of the ball than Wolves (53/47) despite having ten men for an hour.
So Hughes could well see Ballack as a short term solution to adding some class, penetration and composure in the centre of his midfield. Whether he can persuade him to postpone his trans-Atlantic journey is another matter.