One Year On

If I compiled a list of questions people most frequently ask me, up there would be simply ‘Who is your favourite goalkeeper of all time?’

In all fairness, it is a tough question to answer. There are a wide range of quality goalkeepers out there. I have already expressed my admiration for Bolton’s Jussi Jaaskelainen, but then you have to consider the likes of Iker Casillas, Gordon Banks, Lev Yashin, everyone has their favourites, some recognised internationally, some, just recognised within the nation they play in.

I suppose my choice falls within in the former. A well known figure in European football.

And he died exactly a year ago.

Robert Enke jumped in front of a train on November 10th 2009. It wasn’t well known to the world what he had been through in the last six years of his life. Depression, a family loss, in the end it was all too much.

It came as a massive shock at the time, nobody expected it. Nobody expected the news that Robert Enke had died. He was only 32 at the time, still a few years left in his playing career, playing at his best. At the time he was considered for the German number 1 slot for the World Cup in South Africa. He had opportunities at his feet, everything still to play for.

But what the world were not aware of was his personal troubles. He was first treated with depression in 2003 and struggled to overcome the loss of his own daughter, Lara, when she died aged just two.

Enke hid his struggle with depression, in a way not to affect his performances for Hannover 96 (the team he was playing for since the start of the 2004-05 season) but mainly so that he was not seen as unfit to take care of his adopted daughter, Leila. Robert Enke eventually ended his own life one year ago today, November 10th 2009.

The story behind the incident is tragic, a highly emotional one. But what can be always remembered was how good a goalkeeper he actually was. His unfortunate luck regarding the German national team, the jumping around clubs in the early part of his career.

Robert Enke started out life at his local club, Carl Zeiss Jena, aged 18. He played in four first team games before he moved to the Bundesliga and Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 1996.

It was a sort of contrasting story for the club and the player. His debut in the Bundesliga came against Schalke in 1998, in which the team won 3-0. But Monchengladbach soon went down towards the wrong end of the table. Despite the best efforts of Enke, who was becoming an integral part of the team, Borussia Monchengladbach were relegated and Robert Enke was put up for sale, he impressed on the big stage, and big names were after him.

Portuguese team Benfica were quick to sign him, managed by a compatriot in Jupp Heynckes. But his term at Benfica was only the start of his issues outside of Germany. Benfica had three different managers in charge in the three years Enke was at the club. The team went without trophies and struggled financially. In all this time Enke was being watched by the big clubs around Europe. He was impressing again, and it was only a matter of time before he moved on.

His next club, was in fact one of the biggest clubs in the world, Barcelona. But he faced competition, and ultimately failed to beat it. Instead, he was stuck on the bench for a season behind Victor Valdes and only appeared once in a Barcelona shirt in the La Liga, in a 2-2 draw with Osasuna.

Despite the occasional appearance in the Champions League as well, he wanted first team football and so was sent on loan to the Turkish side Fenerbache. But this would not turn out well. His first and only game was to come against Istanbulspor at home, however they went on to lose 3-0, which angered the fans. The fans then went on to throw lighters, coins and bottles towards Enke, clearly blaming him for the defeat. He immediately cancelled his deal with Fenerbache and returned to Barcelona to sit on the sidelines again.

His next club was to be Tenerife, who Barcelona loaned him out too in January 2004. This was a step down from both Barcelona and Fenerbache, in fact Tenerife were at the time in the second division in Spain. This though saw his confidence return, despite conceding five on the final game of the season. That game was to be his last as a player for a foreign team. In the summer of 2004 he requested to leave Barcelona on a free transfer.

Robert Enke’s final football destination was Hannover, a team back in his homeland of Germany. A place where he had first made a name for himself, and was once again going to show his ability and his talent. Straight away, the fans warmed to him, and he rewarded them with exceptional performances. In his first year back in Germany, he was named the Team of the Season by his fellow professionals.

All this time he finally made his international debut in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Denmark. After years of being overshadowed by Oliver Khan and Jens Lehmann, he was finally getting the chance to prove himself. He was an unused substitute in Germanys run to the final in Euro 2008. Before his death, he went on to win 8 caps for Germany. In a way, the peak of Enke’s career came at the worst time, during the years of Khan and Lehmann, as well as the emergence of Rene Adler and Manuel Neuer.

By 2009, Enke was a popular figure in Hannover and the captain of the team. More awards came in terms of the Bundesliga Best Goalkeeper in the 2008-09 season, his last full campaign. His last game was to be at his home ground, the AWD-Arena in Hannover, in a 2-2 draw with Hamburg. Little did anyone know that on the Tuesday following the game, he would no longer be stepping out as captain of the Hannover 96 team, fewer, would be aware of the troubles he faced inside those last six years of his life.

The loss of Robert Enke was felt throughout football. Germany would cancel the team’s friendly game with Chile later in the week. His former clubs of Benfica and Barcelona would go on to have a two minute silence in remembrance of a player they once loved. Tenerife would wear black arm bands.

What was most significant, in my eyes at least, was the reaction of the Hannover fans. They organised an impromptu march from the city centre to the stadium, lighting candles, signing the book of condolence. His funeral service, staged a week after his final game, saw more Hannover fans pack the stadium. To remember one of their players, their captain.

Depression caused the loss of life of one of the most underrated goalkeepers in world football. His time in Germany saw much success and it wouldn’t have been hard to know what it would have been like had he not committed suicide. I liked him as a goalkeeper, what he could do on the pitch. He improved the fortunes of Hannover 96 and inspired many more to be like him.

10th November 2009, when the world lost one of its best goalkeepers.


Posted on November 10, 2010, in Football and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Fantastically written, I can’t believe it was a whole year ago already. Goes to show how even things that you think may only affect people with normal lifes can affect anyone, and it was a huge shame that it got this bad with Robert. He’ll always be remembered as a top goalkeeper.

    • Thank you. It is hard to believe its been a year already and yeah, it affects everyone. There is also the cricketer Marcus Trescothick who springs to mind who also struggled with depression a few years ago. It goes to show anyone can be effected. And I agree about Enke, a top goalkeeper.

  2. How very very sad and a tragic waste of life. Well done for the sympathetic way you have written this RG and for bringing the issue to people’s attention

  3. Great piece RG. It was very sad what happened to him and there are so many people who suffer from these kind of conditions.

    I am amazed you have even heard of Lev Yashin although he was a great keeper.

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