Every 10th of November marks a day of reflection and reminiscence. It has been six years since one of the most promising goalkeepers, Robert Enke, committed suicide due to depression.
For over six years, Enke was suffering from depression and panic attacks. One of the causes of his relapse is undoubtedly the death of his daughter Lara, three years before his death. Lara suffered a rare heart condition. Teresa Enke, the widow of Robert, knew what the consequences would be and later on said “We thought we could get over this, just like we got over everything with love. But you can’t always do it.”
Up to this day, the roots of his mental state remain unclear. Like most professional footballers, Robert’s career had its ups and downs. He suffered tough spells, especially at FC Barcelona, where he fell victim to the unreal pressure that was put on the goalkeepers. Enke was a traditional German goalkeeper; sticking to his line and making spectacular reflex saves like the likes of Oliver Kahn or Uwe Kamps, his mentor at VfB Borussia Mönchengladbach. Van Gaal, who was coaching FC Barcelona at the time, wanted a keeper from the so called ‘Spanish school’, who serves as a stopper and is a great weapon against through balls. Think of Manuel Neuer, a German, ironically.
Needless to say, it didn’t go well. Enke never surpassed Bonano and later Valdez. His confidence suffered after they lost a cup tie against third-tier team Novelda CF. Enke played the whole match. After this spell, he was loaned out to Fenerbahce, hoping to increase his confidence. Sadly, he only played one game, a lost derby against Istanbulspor. His confidence hit rock bottom and he prematurely ended his loan spell. Far from ideal for a goalkeeper who struggles with depression. Upon his return at FC Barcelona he was put in the reserve squad before being loaned to CD Tenerife in the second Spanish division where he regained his confidence before being picked up by Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga.
When I was younger and used to be a goalkeeper, our coach always said “You are mentally the strongest person on the pitch. Your brain is a rock and your blood is liquid ice.” Enke completely seemed to bend that ‘rule’. After spending two humiliating years at Barcelona and Fenerbahce, he surprised everyone at Hannover 96, being voted best goalkeeper in the league twice and becoming the Mannschaft’s number one. The man was a brick wall.
While reading the book A Life too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, by Ronald Reng, one understands the inner struggle such an athletic example to young goalkeepers was experiencing. How fierce and unbeatable he looked from the outside, all the more fragile and weak he was on the inside.
The book is a call to action to encourage people to not evade the subject with people who suffer from it. Everyone is susceptible, from normal humans to football stars. The signs may not always be there but the belief that treatment is possible should never be abandoned.
Following the tragic events, Hannover 96, the German Football Association and the German Football Liga participated to form a foundation which deals primarily with the mental health of football players: the Robert Enke Foundation.
Enke wasn’t a star footballer as we tend to know them. He lived in a farmhouse in Empede, outside of Hannover, where he and his wife Teresa kept a large amount of animals. Enke was known to be a dog lover and animal activist as he repeatedly collaborated with PETA.
Robert was buried next to his daughter Lara in Neustadt, just outside Hannover. The street in which Hannover 96’s home base lies, now carries his name.