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FOOTBALL

‘I’m the captain,’ insists angry Ballack

German captain Michael Ballack hit back at his World Cup replacement Philipp Lahm Wednesday night, vowing in sharp tones he would stay on as the skipper despite Lahm's push to take over full-time.

'I'm the captain,' insists angry Ballack
Photo: DPA

Ballack, who has 98 caps to his name, is not yet ready to call time on his international career and launched a broadside at Lahm while giving his first press conference at new club Bayer Leverkusen.

“I am the captain of the national team,” said Ballack. “Philipp Lahm has made his claim at a moment that I feel is inopportune. I was injured and could not defend myself.

“There are hierarchies. I am going to talk to Philipp about this business.”

Lahm was given the armband for the World Cup in South Africa when the 33-year-old Ballack, who has captained the side since 2004, injured his ankle playing for Chelsea at the end of May.

With Germany reaching the semi-finals, the 26-year-old Lahm went on record to say that he would not hand back the captaincy unless told to do so by coach Joachim Löw.

The issue has cast a light shadow over Germany’s World Cup campaign which saw them win rave reviews for their four-goal thrashings of Australia, England and Argentina.

It is also dividing the team with midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a teammate of Lahm’s at Bayern Munich, pouring oil on the fire on Sunday by declaring that he considered Ballack to be ”the” captain of the national team.

“For me, it is Ballack who is the captain. Philipp took on the role solely becasue Michael was injured,” he told the daily Die Welt.

Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff ticked Lahm off at the time but another ex-international Lothar Matthaus suggested during the World Cup that Germany is better off without Ballack.

“I don’t mean that in a spiteful way but Ballack was arguably holding up a number of players who’ve now blossomed,” said Matthaus.

Löw, who has yet to sign a new deal with the German football federation after guiding Germany to third place in South Africa, has not commented on the brouhaha.

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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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