Everyone is faced with that constant yearning to be the top gun or reach the peak of his or her career or field. The pressure can sometimes be overwhelming and difficult to deal with especially when so much is expected from you. This sort of pressure is nothing new to athletes and we have seen many break down due to inability to cope with it. One of such tragic cases is that of Robert Enke who yielded at the seeming peak of his career.
Robert Enke was a German goalkeeper born on August 24th, 1977. He was a quiet and pensive child with dreams of playing in the big leagues of Europe. In his early days, he played for the local team SV Jenarpham as a striker. He was soon switched to the position of a goalkeeper which he seemed to perform better at. In 1984, young Enke represented Germany against England in a youth international tournament at Wembley.
In 1995, Enke made his professional career debut at Jena, a German second division team(as at then). He made only three appearances which were impressive enough to secure him a move to Borussia Monchengladbach the next year. At Monchengladbach, Enke felt intimidated in training and began to have self doubts about his ability to perform well in the Bundesliga. He tried learning as much as he could from older veteran; Oliver Khan who was the team’s no 1 goalkeeper, Enke being the substitute. Enke soon made his first appearance for the club, owing to Khan’s injuries. His performance on his debut was very impressive, with Gladbach winning by 3-0. Despite the consistency of his performance, the club started losing most of its best players, and this led to a decline in the league. The club became more and more disorganized, this being marked by their 8-2 loss to Leverkusen and 7-1 defeat at Wolfsburg. Eventually, Enke decided to leave the club.
Towards the end of the 1998/1999 season, he signed the contract for a move to Benfica. Enke soon settled down well at the club with support from other German teammates and staff at the Portuguese club. He made his debut against Rio Ave, a game which ended in a 1-1 draw. His performance soon endeared him to the club, the fans and the Lisbon press. He stayed at Lisbon till the 2001/2002 season, refusing contracts from Manchester United and Arsenal. Enke had grown to love the club, as he was valued by both its fans and managers. He also mentored 17 year old Moriera who had been promoted from the B team. The pair grew close with the latter teaching Enke Portuguese till he became fluent enough to give a press statement in the language.
During his stay at Benfica, he had not played in the UEFA champions league which he had set his scope while moving to the club. In 2002, he decided to move his career to a higher level. This he did by securing a move to Spanish league giants, Barcelona. His move to Barcelona carried a lot of promise. The Catalans at the time were faced with a blank spot at the goalkeeping position. They had also signed Argentine International Roberto Bonano and the young Spaniard Victor Valdes. Unfortunately for Enke, his performances didn’t meet up with the expectations of the club’s manager and he was soon relegated to the bench. He had a very difficult time adapting to the club’s style of play which was much more different if not opposite from the style of Benfica. His debut for the side in a Copa del Rey match against third tier club Novelda wasn’t really his day. The Catalans lost 3-2. He also made a few appearances in the Champions League with Victor Valdes being the club’s first choice. Enke would later go on loan to Fenerbahçe during the 2003/04 season. His only game at the club ended in a 3-0 loss to Istanbulspor. This only served to increase his mounting depression and he opted for the termination of the loan contract. Enke later moved to Tenerife as a backup to their established Segunda keeper, Alvaro Iglesias. The move did a lot of good to him and he soon became one with the team. He soon asserted himself playing at his very best, while lifting the side from 20th to 8th in the league. He continued with his impressive form in Tenerife until 2006.
While Enke’s career was taking a turn for good, he had a problem, his daughter’s health. Enke’s daughter, Lara was born in late 2004. She was born with a heart defect and underwent surgical procedures to correct it. Despite the success of the procedure, her hearing remained weak and the surgical procedure also left her deaf. To correct this, cochlear implants were to be made for her but she died during surgery in 2006. This event may have also brought back mounting stress levels. Three years later, he and his wife, Teresa adopted a baby girl, Leila. By then, the German had already moved to Hannover to be closer to his family. He was soon appointed team captain which at first wasn’t much trouble but soon became a burden on him.
The need for a new National team goalkeeper brought Enke into the spotlight. He was among the considerations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup amidst other competitors for the number 1 spot such as Manuel Neuer, Adler and Hiddlebrand. The pressure mounting on him became more intense leading to his fatal bout of depression. In spite of constant encouragement from his wife, Teresa and team mates, Enke seemed to withdraw more and more during the 2009/2010 season. His last games were marked with expressionless and lacklustre performances.
His final game was a 2-2 draw against Hamburg. As his previous performances were, he didn’t have the passion to play anymore or even to live. Finally yielding to depression, two days later he left home under the pretext of training. He then drove to around the city for the last time and threw himself in front of a train later that evening, leaving a suicide note.
His death was a very shocking and tragic one. That night, his former club Barcelona held a minute silence for him before their game. The German national team also cancelled their friendly match against Chile which had been scheduled a day before his memorial service and also cancelled a training session and all interviews. On the 15th of November 2009, his memorial service kicked off with over 40,000 people present. His coffin, daubed in white roses was carried by six of his Hannover teammates. In memory of Enke, The German Football Association, Hannover 96 and the Deutsche Fußball Liga founded the Robert Enke Foundation to help deal with the mental health of players.
Attribution: The featured image in this post was gotten from WikiMedia Commons.