Michael Ballack can hardly be accused of setting the Premier League alight this year. Germany's captain has looked like a foreign body in a well-oiled Chelsea team. And as would be expected from a man underperforming on a reported £130,000 a week, he has received his fair share of criticism. Alan Shearer even went as far as to claim Ballack is not showing enough effort or hunger to succeed in the Premier League.
But nothing could be further from the truth: When Ballack arrived in London, he declared his liking for fish and chips, with peas. He did not elaborate on whether he meant the mushy variety, or how the dish measured up to a currywurst even. Yet his hunger was not in question.
This stems from his appetite to succeed as a professional. A trait that first surfaced when he was a child growing up in East Germany. At the age of 16, he came out from anesthesia after an operation to smooth the cartilage in his knee only to be told he would never be able to play competitive sports again. Six months later - he did.
His determination most famously came to light, during the 2002 World Cup semi final, when Ballack was shown a yellow card that meant he would miss the final. But instead of dwelling on the incident, he burst into the box four minutes later and scored the winner.
Despite the criticism, he has shown a hunger to succeed at Chelsea too. Away from home in this season's Champions League group match against Werder Bremen, he took over penalty duties from Frank Lampard to dispatch a confident shot into the roof of the net. He has won 75 per cent of his tackles this season and is certainly in the thick of things, as he has committed the most fouls out of all Chelsea players.
The main problem is that Ballack and Lampard are like two peas in a pod: both goal-hungry central midfielders. With Lampard remaining the focal point of Chelsea play, the German has looked as out of place as fresh veg in Iceland. A point that did not pass by Germany's football Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer: "Frank Lampard is stronger and takes his [Ballack's] position. The game mostly passes him by," he noted.
Yet all the signs point to change: three weeks ago Ballack scored the winner to send Chelsea through to the quarter finals of the Champions League. He delivered a cute chipped through-ball for Didier Drogba to score in the Carling Cup Final and last week he scored against Sheffield United.
Ballack, like Drogba before him, simply needed time to adapt to the Premiership. Jose Mourinho, who has steadfastly stuck by Ballack despite his lack of form, is now beginning to see his loyalty bear fruit. And with all trophies still to play for, it would seem 'The Special One' knew all along, that when the chips are down, Ballack will show the hunger required.