Ballack fails to shake off 'nearly man' tag as Chelsea midfielder  finishes season empty-handed

Michael Ballack has earned praise in Germany for taking his country to the brink of Euro 2008 success but his efforts to lose his "nearly-man" tag will now start again when Chelsea return for pre-season training.

The 31-year-old midfielder could scarcely have played better in the last six months but ended the campaign empty handed - pipped by Manchester United to the Barclays Premier League and Champions League, then defeated by Spain in Vienna.

Ballack was also a late substitute at Wembley when Tottenham beat Chelsea in the Carling Cup final last season, overlooked by Avram Grant - who was in the Austrian capital watching his former player on Sunday night.

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Michael Ballack

Second best: Michael Ballack has finished runner-up four times this season.

There were echoes of 2002 when he suffered "treble horror" with Bayer Leverkusen by losing the league, cup and Champions League at the end of that season.

He was then famously suspended for the World Cup final, picking up his yellow card just before scoring the winner against South Korea.

Ballack enjoyed huge success at Bayern Munich but the disappointments have been documented in equal measure.

Against Spain at Ernst Happel Stadium he was passed fit after a calf injury, then clashed heads with Marcos Senna and needed a cut above his eye closed up.

One headline from a German daily newspaper read: 'He fought, he bled, he lost. The trauma goes on.'

But Ballack insisted he was proud of Germany's progress through the finals despite the disappointment of defeat.

Ballack said: 'We had a great tournament, but made one mistake too many. We were lacking power against a great Spanish team, we couldn't keep up with them.

'It's always disappointing to lose a final, but we played a great championship. We wanted more, but we couldn't deliver. Still, we can be proud.'

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