Leverkusen fans across the world are in Mourning this week as their legendary manager Michael Ballack has been found deceased at his country home in Monaco. Suggestions currently are that Ballack, 46, had overdosed on drugs. Those closest to him said that he had slipped slowly into depression after his wife was ran over and killed earlier this month.
Ballack will be cherished in the hearts of every Leverkusen fan after his impressive mangerial career at Die Werkself had pushed them to become the very best team in Germany. He took over as manager in 2013 and had to wait until 2018 for his first piece of glory, winning the double of the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal. The next year Leverkusen retained the DFB-Pokal, however the season after that saw them fall out of a Champions League spot in the league and get knocked out early in the Pokal. Having had this disappointing blip Ballack decided to look into his youth and this youth helped him to win the Europa League and surge back up the table to win the league for the second time under Ballack's reign. The team got better and better year on year and managed to retain the Bundesliga the next 2 seasons, with victory in the DFB-Pokal the season just finished. With news off his passing Leverkusen have planned to erect a statue outside the main stand at the BayArena to remember his brilliance.
Ballack's closest friend and Assistant at Leverkusen was quick to pay tribute. "Michael was an amazing person. He had a certain philosophy, not just to football but to life, and he stuck to it no matter what. I've had a few calls off the team, whom are either away on holiday or are at international tournaments, telling me how incredibly sad they are to hear the news. A lot of them have also planned to travel home as soon as possible to attend his funeral, in which his family are delighted to hear."
"I don't know how I will be able to walk into training knowing that I won't have Michael there to breathe down my neck making sure I am doing everything to perfection. He had a certain strictness about him. He was a perfection. He wanted everything done his way and everything done right. He was a fantastic leader and will be desperately sadly missed by everyone involved, not just with this club, but with football in general."
Nobody is sure who will take charge at the club at the present moment. The club will have never prepared a manger to replace Ballack because they never believed that he would leave the club. His heart was in the club and had a great relationship with the board. Everyone know's that it will be a very tough job to follow up such a legendary figure, however someone has to do it, and only time will tell if The Leverkusen Legacy can be continued.
I sat down on the beach and looked out across the water. It was a great morning, the sun was out and the shine was glazing across the still sea. Wonderful. Ever since I retired I have been able to relax, do I enjoy retirement? Well it has it's perks, however I really am beginning to miss football. I thought about becoming a coach straight after I retired however my wife, Sacha, decided that I needed time out to relax and get away from the hassle of football. As much as I love having everything gave to me here, I hate not having responsibility. I feel like I need to be doing something. Suddenly my phone rang, it was Sacha.
"Philipp you need to come to the house!" She said sternly and hung up. I Jumped up and started jogging towards the house, this was strange, if she wanted me then she could of just walked over. Something was up.
As I walked into the living room I saw the TV and collapsed onto a chair. I cried, I cried with my head in my hands.
"...It is believed that the manager had overdosed on drugs after slipping into a depression. Those affiliated with Michael have said to be into mourning over a great man."
After what seemed like an age my phone rang again, it was an unknown number. I looked at my phone then up to Sacha, who nodded. I answered and slowly rose my phone to my head.
"Hello, who is this?" I whimpered down the phone, trying to hold the tears back.
"Philipp I'm guessing you have heard." A familiar voice answered softly. "I know you will want time to mourn but I need you to come to Leverkusen. The club needs to carry on despite the times."
"I will come Fulvio. I want to be with the lads." I said, wiping my face with a crumpled up tissue that Sacha handed to me.
Fulvio took a while to answer, it sounded like he had been crying aswell. "Good to hear, I will meet you at the training ground on Friday."
I hung up and laid back, taking in the news. It felt like a large part of me had just disappeared, gone without a trace. As I looked back at Sacha I realised that Michael would not have wanted all this mourning. He would want us to carry on as normal, however not forget what he has taught us.
Leverkusen hadn't changed much for Wollscheid. He hadn't been in the City for what felt like a life time ago. Wollscheid had received a text off Fulvio that told him to meat someone at 'Das Schwein und Hurst', a popular restaurant on the outskirts of the city. So here he was at a venue that actually had a lot of sentimental value for him. The last time he was here was when Ballack was telling him that his services were no longer required by the club and that they were letting him leave at the end of the season. That was the most gutting night of his life, however, this was also the venue in which he was told that he was going to replace the legendary Stefan Kiessling as Leverkusen captain. He remembered the nights he had spent at this restaurant fondly as he looked across the park opposite at two cats sniffing around a rose bush.
After what seemed like an age, the cat's disappeared out of the park and a man, wearing a black suit and sporting rather trendy tinted sunglasses entered the restaurant. He had grey hair and a large mustache which rippled in the breeze as he sat down in the seat opposite Wollshcheid. As Wollscheid looked across the man took off his sunglasses and spoke:
"Hello Mr Wollscheid, I am glad you could join me."
This was not Fulvio, as Wollscheid had expected. This was a man with a lot more power, a lot more money, and was 10 times more invaluable to Bayer 04 Leverkusen. This was the CEO, Michael Schade.
"I know you expected Fulvio to meet you here, however, I decided that I needed to come myself. To check on how you are."
Wollscheid stared at his mustache for a while.
"I can't believe he's actually gone. He was the reason behind my success and was my hero, in a way."
"I know, we all feel that way. He was a hero for all of us."
In the distance a car screeched to a halt and a lot of shouting was heard. Then a group of teens walked past the restaurant on their mobiles. Time was moving slowly...
"Ok, I lied. I wasn't just here to check on how you are, although I am glad you're well. I am
here to offer you an opportunity to do Michael proud. I want you to come back to Leverkusen, I want you to continue his legacy. I'm offering you the chance to manage Bayer Leverkusen."
Wollscheid snapped up and looked at Schade. He looked deep into his eyes for almost an eternity before answering.
And with that Wollscheid stood up, picked up his jacket and stormed out of the restaurant.
The night was still and the City was dead. Wollscheid sat on his balcony with a can of Beck's looking over the horizon and at the brightly lit BayArena. He didn't know if he had made the correct choice in turning down the offer. As the sun began to creep up Wollscheid realised he had not slept all and so he stood up and climbed into his hotel bed with Sacha, whom had slept like a log all night.
As Wollscheid and Sacha arrived at the funeral he saw that the gates to the cemetery were bombarded by the media, and as he stepped out of the car there was an almighty ripple of whispers circulating around them. Wollscheid grabbed Sacha's hand and started walking towards the ceremony.
There was a lot of people there to say their last goodbye's to this wonderful man. From close Family and Friends to ex-players and Wollscheid was sure he caught a glimpse of Spanish mastermind Pep Guardiola lingering around the back of the crowd. The funeral went by nicely and there were lots of tears as Ballack's coffin was lowered into the grave. As Philipp started to walk away he heard a quiet and desperately sad voice call him from behind.
"Mr Wollscheid, Mr Wollscheid"
It was Louis Ballack, Michael's 12 year-old son.
"Hey Louis, I haven't seen you for a long time. You've grew!" Wollscheid said as he gave Louis a hug.
"Is it true Mr Wollscheid, are you really taking over from my dad? I know that he wouldn't want to leave Bayer with nobody in charge and he used to tell me that when i'm playing for Bayer you will be in charge!"
There was a hint of passion in Louis voice that hit Wollscheid in his heart. Ballack wanted
him to continue on his name, his legacy. As his eyes started to water a bit and a lump started to grow in his throat Wollscheid stood up and stared down at young Louis.
"Yes Louis, but don't tell anyone."
Wollscheid winked at Louis with a smile before pulling out his phone. He took no hesitation in calling Fulvio.
"Philipp, hey sorry I couldn't make the..."
"I've changed my mind. I want to be manager."
There was a lot of rustling coming down the phone before the clear voice of Michael Schade boomed down the phone.
"We knew you would change your mind. You're in. Report for training tomorrow, you know the drill."
Wollscheid hung up and looked up at Sacha whom smiled back at him, almost knowingly. He walked over to her and hugged her. He felt a mixture of proudness that he was the one selected by Ballack to be the next manager, and also nervousness that he could mess up. No he can't mess up, this is the best football team in the world after all...
On a warm summers morning Wollschied parked up outside the Leverkusen training facility and entered through the main doors. He remembered how much effort Ballack and the Board had put in to designing this facility so that it felt like a second home and, even though it was his first time back for years, he felt like he never left. Wollscheid grabbed a bag of balls and a pile of cones before exiting out the back and he walked towards the first team, who where being directed in stretches by Fulvio.
As the players noticed Wollscheid they stopped their stretches and stood, watching him walk over. As soon as he reached the group Wollscheid placed the what he was carrying down and looked at each member of the team.
"Hello guys. I know many of you are still shaken by recent events and I am too. However there is a football season coming up and you guys need someone to take charge of First Team affairs. I am not here to match Ballack, I know how clever a man he was first-hand. However I am here to do my best, and I hope you will too. This season I want everything. This season I want us to win everything. That would be the best way to remember him."
There was silence before Mladen Jovanovic, the captain, stepped up and shook Wollshceid's hand. "We will give everything we can" he said passionately before turning back towards the team and there was a cheer of "ye!" from the bundle of players.
"Good! Well then, Fulvio will get you into 2 teams and you show me what you have got!"
Wollscheid had watched every Leverkusen game he could since he left and knew what most of the players where about, however there were a couple of new faces of whom Ballack had managed to sign before his passing.
In goal was Yuri Willemse. He had took over as Leverkusen goalkeeper from Bendt Leno 5 years ago and has never looked like dropping form. In his last season he managed to keep a staggering 18 clean sheets. This guy couldn't be dropped and Wollscheid knew it. For back-up there was the 30 year-old Italian Nicola Leali who was signed last year after the retirement of long-time reserve keeper Michael Agazzi.
The club had a very solid defence, Brazilian international Luis Felipe being the heart of it. Luis does not look as if he would be a defender if you had never heard of him, standing at 5"10' he isn't the biggest guy in the world, however he in his technical game play he can mix it with the best. Partnering him at the back would be either Bernard Boucher or Manny Phillips. Bernard is the total opposite to Luis, he is a giant. He may not be the best technically, however he is a physical beast and bullies strikers off the ball. Manny is a legend in the US, the yank has impressed enough in Leverkusen so much that he reached 50 caps before he was 23. He may not be as big as Benard, however he is built like a tank and can keep up with most strikers aswell. He also has more to his game than just physically, once he has latched onto his man they will never see the light of day.
On either side of the centre-backs will generally be Luis' Brazilian partner Matues and Spaniard Javi. Matues joined as a youngsters a few seasons back for a hefty £27m and has firmly secured his position at Left-Back. This guy is a grafter and will work his ass off whenever needed. At Right-Back you will find a man who earned an even heftier transfer fee of £30m after breaking into the Barcelona senior-team. Ballack had talked to this kid often to Wollscheid and he remembered the sound of delight in Ballack's voice during Javi's unveiling. At back-up to both full-backs are Sebastien Jacques and Abdurrahman Albayrak, both are young prospects who will hopefully step up to the mark sooner or later.
The club may have a solid Defence but it's the Midfield where the shining stars of the team lie, starting with the Captain Mladen Jovanovic. Mladen is a fan favourite at the club and pundits say that he is the star of the team. You can find him helping out anywhere on the pitch and he never tires out. He isn't the tallest or strongest of Midfielders but in the way that he plays that just isn't needed. This guy is a genious. Next to him you can usually find Sakhile Vezi, possibly the best Playmaker to have come out of Africa. Napoli will be constantly kicking themselves for letting him go on a free in 2018 as he has developed into a superstar. As of plenty of players in the club he is a physical beast. The club also have 2 young defensive Midfielders trying their hardest to break into the first team, 20 year-old Wolfgang Lange and 21 year old Gaston Rossi. Wolfgang has had interest from all over the world however he has never managed to fully break through to the first-team. Gaston has recently joined the club on a free after rejecting Barcelona to come to Leverkusen and has bags full of potential. Could this be their year?
The club currently have 4 world-class attacking minded midfielders. Starting with Mario Aolita we have an Argentinian who has spent most of his time hiding in the Argentinian league. When Ballack spent £8m on this lad people where questioning his judgement on Mario, however, Mario has came and has shown the world that Ballack knew talent when he saw it. Technically Mario is a fantastic player, his passing, his touch, his shooting is all close to perfection, however his physical side isn't as bright. He is not as fast or strong and that might be part of the reasoning behind only having 18 caps for Argentina. Marko Pavlovski is also lacking in physicality, however, he is 29. Marko was captain until last season when the duty was passed down to Mladen. Marko is a club legend and was the star of the club for many years, breaking the Bundesliga assist record twice. However, if you want a bit more pace then up-steps Croat Vladko Miserda. Vladko was signed for £26m and has never really shown that value. He always tries his best and usually shines, however he doesn't really live up to that fee. Looking at £26m fee you would think that Angel Correa would have been worth £60m with the form that he has shown at the club, however, Angel cost £0 after leaving Benfica on a free 6 seasons ago. He started slow, however has accelerated his career since.
Up top the undeniable number 9 is star Niko Wolff. Niko came in as a 16 year-old after being poached from Bayern Munich in 2014 for a compensation fee of 925k. Ballack had talked highly of the youngster, however, he never really impressed in his 3 loan spells at NEC, Atletico and Galatasary. However, Ballack showed faith in the youngster and aged 21 he started his first season as the clubs main striker. That season he scored 29 goals in 32 games, assisting 11. Niko is unbelievably powerful and is a nightmare for defenders to mark. Signed in as a back-up Gustavo Suarez will play his first season for Leverkusen after being brought in as Ballack's last signing. This was who Wollshceid was especially interested in looking at. Gustavo scored 15 in 24 for Cruz Azul before being brought to Germany and still has a lot of potential.
Wollscheid still had players in the 2nd team that he knew he wanted to sell on as he didn't have much money to spend, most was spent by Ballack on Gustavo and Sebastian. He knew that he couldn't let any of the stars go, however, he had a list of players in his mind of whom had a price...