November 11th, 2009
02:07 PM ET

Enke's death shows footballers are human too

The apparent suicide of Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke is a stark reminder that top footballers aren’t immune from the slings and arrows that life throws our way.

We are mourning Robert Enke - Hannover 96's website has been removed of regular content.
We are mourning Robert Enke - Hannover 96's website has been removed of regular content.

In an age when European soccer has never been richer and the rewards for the best players have never been higher it’s easy to envy the game’s stars. Many of them earn more in a week than you or I get paid in a year, simply because they have been born with an exceptional, physical talent.

It’s not easy to empathise with people who are cheered by tens of thousands of fans every week, who travel all over the world at someone else’s expense and who can afford to buy almost anything – houses, jewellery, cars – without thinking twice.

International footballers have lifestyles we can only dream of but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t a nightmare.

Football may only be a game but, like all professional sport, it is also big business and the pressure to achieve results is huge. Of all the players on the pitch, none is more exposed than the man guarding the net.

As England goalkeeper David James wrote, in the Guardian newspaper earlier this year, “Whereas an outfield player can risk a bad pass and expect to be covered, a goalkeeper has no margin for error. It makes us pretty pedantic and intense at times.”

Tellingly, he goes on to say, “Keepers are guarded and we become more so as we get older.”

Goalkeepers have always been viewed as independent, aloof, a bit quirky even. They pride themselves on being the rock on which a successful team can be built while running the risk that they’ll become the shaky foundations of a bad side.

Robert Enke was a good goalkeeper. He was tipped to be Germany’s number one at next year’s World Cup. After spells with clubs as famous as Barcelona and Benfica, he was playing for Bundesliga side Hannover 96 and his form had attracted interest from the mighty Bayern Munich.

But Enke’s excellence on the field couldn’t protect him from life’s vagaries off it. His two-year-old daughter died three years ago from a heart illness and his wife has admitted the player was suffering from depression. They adopted a baby girl in May and it’s thought Enke was concerned she would be taken away if the authorities learnt about his condition.

If that doesn’t seem an insurmountable problem maybe it simply underlines that Robert Enke’s death is as tragic and mystifying as anyone else’s suicide.

Footballers may be rich and privileged but, in the end, they have no special immunity against the reality of life.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Jeff D

    I would add that not only are they born with talent, but usually they are born with a burning drive to maximize that talent. There are plenty of supremely talented players who lacked that drive and never lived up to their potential.

    November 11, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  2. Andrew

    It's a great tragedy.

    November 11, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Reply
  3. Frank

    Rest in peace, Robert. We miss you.

    November 12, 2009 at 9:15 am | Reply
  4. Nicole

    Its tragical and it so touching

    November 12, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  5. David Nyathi

    This is some article Alex. On paper these superstars look bigger than life but in reality are also prone to the vicissitudes of life. The only difference between them and you and me is that whatever happens to them touches the emotions of millions of people. Being a fan of Bundesliga in some rural African village, I have been a big fan of Enke. I am saddened at the premature end of such a talent

    November 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Reply
  6. Doug

    I am a big fan of the Bundesliga and this situation truly saddens me. My deepest sympathy for Teresa and the families involved. Alex has hit it right on the head. We often strip celebrities, including footballers, of their humanity as we place them on the pedestal of fame. But yet, thier challenges of living normal lives is far more complicated because of OUR desire and their fame. We must remember they are just like us with emotions, fragility, and personal lives.

    November 13, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  7. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Life is becoming more and more difficult to every one including to those whose profession is to entertain fellow pilgrims through their superhuman deeds in sports and games. May the Giver of Life grant eternal bliss to goalkeeper Robert Enke.

    November 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  8. KB

    I think in all sport this is something that owners, coaches and trainers need to pay attention to more. One thing that you have to credit Jurgen Klinsmann for back when he was German National Team coach was that he enlisted the services of sports psychologists to monitor the mood of the players. I think this is something you might start to see more of at club teams in the future.

    But besides that, I am still in udder shock as to what happened.

    My condolences go out to his wife, adopted daughter, the Hannover 96 squad and the German National Team.

    November 15, 2009 at 12:13 am | Reply
  9. Max

    Robert we miss You
    Rest in Peace
    We nerver forget You

    November 15, 2009 at 12:24 am | Reply
  10. Ndongo

    Its very sad and tragic.... may his soul rest in peace

    November 15, 2009 at 2:36 am | Reply
  11. Robert Johnson

    Our family mourns the loss of Robert Enke and we pass on our love and respect to Teresa Enke and her family. The German Bundesliga has lost a valuable team member but we have also lost a wonderful human being

    November 15, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  12. fcbfan

    Ruhe In Frieden Robert

    November 16, 2009 at 12:30 am | Reply
  13. Pele Beckham

    FWIW, Mexican Antonio de Nigris just died of a stroke in Greece (where he was playing in a local team, but not at the time of his decease) at 31. So much for sports equaling health...

    November 16, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  14. victor

    Oh,is a pity.may soal rest in peace,amen.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  15. Rudolph.A.Furtado

    Every sportsperson would understand the trauma's and heartbreaks of competitive sports.

    November 18, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  16. Roger Ménétrey

    the German National team yesterday played a friendly game against the Ivory Coast. I have to say that i was extremely impressed of the African team for wearing the same black brass as the German team, in memory of Robert Enke, on there shirts.
    Thanks for your Respect Africa.

    November 19, 2009 at 10:33 am | Reply

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