He was born in Görlitz, a town in Bezirk Dresden, East Germany (now Saxony, Germany), which straddles the Polish border.
In 1995, Ballack earned his first professional contract, thanks to his performances in the role of central midfielder. He was dubbed the "Little Kaiser", in reference to Franz Beckenbauer, who was nicknamed "Der Kaiser".
His professional debut came on 4 August 1995, on the first day of the new 2. Bundesliga season.
On 26 March 1996, Ballack debuted for the Germany national under-21 team against Denmark, shortly after signing for Chemnitzer FC. In all, he played 19 matches for this side, scoring four goals.
In the summer of 1997, coach Otto Rehhagel of just-promoted 1. FC Kaiserslautern signed Ballack at their return to top flight football.
Ballack's first senior Germany appearance, did not come until 28 April 1999, when he came on as a substitute for Dietmar Hamann in a match against Scotland.
On 1 July 1999, Ballack moved to Bayer Leverkusen at age 22 for a transfer fee of €4.1 million.
He lost the UEFA Champions League final 2–1 to Real Madrid.
In spite of Real Madrid's interest, Ballack decided to sign with Bayern Munich in a €12.9 million deal in 2002 after his impressive performances in the World Cup.
Ballack agreed to join English Premier League club Chelsea on a free transfer on 15 May 2006.
Ballack's debut for Chelsea came on 31 July 2006, during a practice match at UCLA's intramural football pitch. Chelsea presented him to the media the following day where the club also gave him his favoured number 13 shirt, worn throughout his career.
On 27 August 2006, Ballack made his Premier League debut for Chelsea against Blackburn Rovers.
On 12 September, he scored his first goal for the club on his Champions League debut against Werder Bremen.
He received the first straight red card of his career in Chelsea's 1–0 win over Liverpool on 17 September 2006, after being judged to have stamped on Mohamed Sissoko's leg.
On 29 April 2007, Chelsea released a statement on their official website, informing fans that Ballack had undergone ankle surgery in Munich. As a result, Ballack did not play in the FA Cup final against Manchester United, which Chelsea won 1–0 through Didier Drogba's extra time goal.
Germany, captained by Ballack, lost to Spain 1–0 in the final of UEFA Euro 2008.
On 14 July 2008, Ballack married his long-time girlfriend Simone Lambe.
On 2 June 2009,Ballack signed a one-year contract extension with Chelsea.
He also started as Chelsea were victorious against Portsmouth in the 2010 FA Cup final, however he would come off injured shortly before half-time after a tackle by Kevin-Prince Boateng. As a result of the injury, Ballack was not able to participate in the 2010 World Cup.
On 9 June 2010, it was announced that Ballack, along with teammates Joe Cole and Juliano Belletti, would leave Chelsea on a free transfer after his contract was not renewed. It was reported that while manager Carlo Ancelotti wanted to retain Ballack, club owner Roman Abramovich was only willing to offer a one-year deal due to Ballack's age.
On 25 June 2010, Ballack signed a two-year contract with former club Bayer Leverkusen.
Ballack had a shin injury sustained 11 September 2010 in a Bundesliga match against Hannover 96.
On 6 October 2010, it was announced that Ballack would not play again in 2010 at the club or international level due to the shin injury
On 20 February 2011, Ballack made his return from injury, coming on as a substitute for Simon Rolfes against VfB Stuttgart; Leverkusen won the match 4–2.
On 16 June 2011, it was announced that Ballack would no longer be a part of the national team. The German Football Association (DFB) offered him two friendlies to reach 100 matches for Germany, which he refused, accusing Löw of disrespecting him ever since his injury dating back to March 2010 and calling the invitation to compete in another two games for Germany a "farce".
Ballack and Simone Lambe divorced in 2012.
Ballack announced his retirement on 2 October 2012.
On 5 June 2013, Ballack played a farewell match at Leipzig's Red Bull Arena. The match was won by a World XI 4–3 against the "Friends of Ballack", with Ballack scoring his second hat-trick in his career.