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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 4, 2006

Magath keen to fill void left by Ballack

BERLIN, Aug 4 (Reuters) - With Michael Ballack transferred to Chelsea after leading Bayern Munich to three Bundesliga championships in his four seasons at the club, coach Felix Magath has thrown open the auditions for his replacement. After Bayern executives decided they would not buy a replacement for the almost irreplaceable one, Magath had no choice but to look down his expensive bench for a new playmaker.

Bayern's success this season will likely hinge on whether Magath can adequately fill the gap.

There are plenty of candidates for the central midfield role that Ballack excelled at: Owen Hargreaves, Roque Santa Cruz, Ali Karimi, Julio dos Santos, Mehmet Scholl, Bastian Schweinsteiger or Sebastian Deisler.

'We've got time to try out a few things,' Magath said. 'We're not in any sort of emergency situation.'

Hargreaves, one of England's few bright spots at the World Cup, won fulsome praise from the normally reserved Magath for a strong effort filling Ballack's shoes in a pre-season League Cup semi-final win over Schalke 04 this week.

'Owen did a very good job,' Magath said of the 25-year-old who has been at Bayern for nine years.

But Magath also has Paraguay's Roque Santa Cruz, normally a striker, who dropped back to midfield as Ballack's replacement late last season after nine months out with a knee injury and also performed well.

'It's a position I feel comfortable in and wouldn't have any problem playing it,' said Santa Cruz, echoing Hargreaves who also said he felt fine playing in the position.

Karimi, a national hero in Iran, failed to shine at Bayern in his first season. But Magath retains his faith in him.

Magath, by contrast, has less faith in Schweinsteiger than former Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann, whose confidence in the 22-year-old was unlimited. His strong performance at the World Cup should nevertheless lead to more time on the left midfield.

Bayern also have Paraguay midfielder dos Santos, acquired in mid-season from Cerro Porteno after it was becoming clear that Ballack would leave. But he spent most of the second half of the season on Magath's bench.

Deisler, one of Germany's most creative midfielders, is not expected back until the autumn from another knee injury, and Scholl at nearly 36 is only fit enough for short stints.