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FOOTBALL

Ballack’s agent brands national players ‘queers’

Footballer Michael Ballack’s agent has sparked controversy by reportedly launching a bizarre homophobic attack on the German national team, branding unnamed players a “bunch of queers.”

Ballack's agent brands national players 'queers'
Photo: DPA

Lawyer Michael Becker, a close adviser to Ballack since 1999, made the remarks two months before the World Cup, according to an essay in Monday’s edition of news magazine Der Spiegel.

The remarks have fuelled concerns that, in contrast to the much lauded racial diversity and tolerance within the national team, football remains a bastion of homophobia.

The essay’s author, Alexander Osang, wrote that Becker had said during a conversation two months before the World Cup at a restaurant in Luxembourg that he knew which players on the team were gay.

A few days later, Becker told a group of journalists and players’ managers at a match played by Ballack’s new club Bayer Leverkusen that there was a former national player who was going to expose a “bunch of queers” within the national team. Osang wrote that others present had merely reacted with nods.

Later, when Osang asked Becker if another national team player was also homosexual, Becker answered that he was “half-gay.”

Osang concluded that homosexuality was “a synonym for anything that Becker did not understand.”

Apparently that included the lighter, more elegant style of play encouraged under the leadership of Germany coach Joachim Löw.

Ballack, who was injured shortly before the World Cup, spent the tournament as a spectator. Although defender Philipp Lahm filled in as skipper, Ballack remains officially the captain of the national team.

Becker told daily Bild he would neither confirm nor deny making the remarks and merely said: “The colleague from Der Spiegel must clearly have misunderstood something.”

He did not elaborate. Whether Becker was talking about the private lives of specific players or simply using offensive language is not clear, however the remarks are likely to intensify concerns that professional football remains an area where homosexuality is a taboo.

Dirk Mesch, spokesman for Bayer Leverkusen, the club where Ballack started out and to which he will return after leaving English side Chelsea FC, distanced the club from Becker’s remarks.

“At Bayer Leverkusen we have absolutely no resentment towards homosexuals,” he said.

The remarks were “personal statements by Mr Becker, which are not connected with Bayer Leverkusen,” Mesch added.

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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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