Ballack debuted for hometown side Chemnitz, a second division club, in 1995. He was transferred to Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern in 1997, and then to Bayer Leverkusen two years later, helping the team reach the final of the 2002 UEFA Champions League. Ballack moved to Bayern Munich that same year. He signed with English outfit Chelsea in 2006 and has remained with the club since.
Ballack joined the German under-21 squad in 1996, before graduating to the senior side. He guided Germany to the final of the 2002 World Cup (which the Germans lost to Brazil) and the Euro 2008 final against Spain (another German loss). Ballack was named captain of Germany's national team in 2004, and was a standout player for his country when it hosted the 2006 World Cup, losing to Italy in the semifinals.