bundesliga

Robert Enke, gone but never forgotten

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic death of former Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke. bundesliga.com reflects on the talented goalkeeper’s career as well as what the charitable foundation established in his name has achieved since his untimely passing.

Enke, who won eight caps for his country, took his own life on 10 November 2009. The news of his death shocked the global footballing community, and was a stark reminder that depression is an ailment that can impact any family.

The former Benfica and Hannover captain had a number of bouts of it, either side of losing his two-year-old daughter, who had been born with a heart condition.

An event organised in Hannover for the 10th anniversary of his sad passing is entitled "Robert Enke – even heroes have depression", and will feature a screening of a film bearing the same name.

"The title should highlight that it can affect anyone," Enke's wife Teresa, the CEO of the Robert Enke Foundation, told a press conference hosted by Hannover ahead of this year’s anniversary.

On the field, Enke had been a goalkeeper's goalkeeper, one who rarely made errors and was particularly adept in one-on-one situations. Reliable rather than flashy, his penalty statistics, for example, were exceptional – having saved 14 of the 33 he faced in the Bundesliga.

From Gladbach to Lisbon

Having started out with his hometown club Carl Zeiss Jena, Enke made his top-flight breakthrough with Borussia Mönchengladbach. It was there that he began to experience the highs and lows of professional football. When veteran goalkeeper and one-club man Uwe Kamps suffered a major injury shortly before the start of the 1998/99 season, the 20-year-old rookie was handed his Bundesliga debut. Enke kept a clean sheet in a 3-0 win over Schalke, but a team that had only just avoided the drop the year before would go on to be relegated for the first time.

Robert Enke made his Bundesliga debut for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Schalke. - imago images

Enke left to join Benfica where Jupp Heynckes – a future treble-winning coach with Bayern Munich – had recently taken charge. While former West Germany and Gladbach striker Heynckes would only spend a year in Portugal, the veteran was hugely impressed by his young goalkeeper.

"I've trained loads of players in my career, and as a coach you always get on particularly well with this team member or that one," Heynckes said in A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, Ronald Reng’s award-winning book about the keeper’s life.

"But if somebody asks me after 30 years in the job who I think my ideal professional is, I always say [former Real Madrid midfielder] Fernando Redondo and Robert Enke. Both of them weren't just special footballers, but special people – respectful, sociable, intelligent."

A baby-faced Robert Enke worked with legendary German coach Jupp Heynckes at Benfica. - imago

A young keeper in a foreign land, Enke had moved to Lisbon at a turbulent time in the two-time European champions' history. He fought off competition to become number one and captain, however, and his performances earned him a move to Barcelona in the summer of 2002. He was only the third German player in over 100 years to line up for the Catalans.

Coping with adversity

In Barcelona, though, Enke suffered a significant depression, and he played only a handful of times – along with spending time on loan with Fenerbahce in Turkey – before eventually bouncing back in the Spanish second division with Tenerife.

Enke returned to Germany in 2004, signing for Hannover. There he would be voted German sports magazine Kicker's Bundesliga Goalkeeper of the Year for the 2005/06 season, swiftly becoming a hero for supporters of the Reds.

Robert Enke played with some of the best players in the world at Barcelona - like Carles Puyol. - imago/Belga

He did so by showing admirable courage while battling through a devastating family tragedy. His beloved daughter Lara spent a year in hospital – much of it in intensive care – and then died in September 2006 after undergoing ear surgery.

Enke played in a 1-1 draw against Bayer Leverkusen less than a week after his loss, and two weeks later was called up to the Germany squad for the first time in seven years. He had to wait until March 2007, though, to finally make his senior international debut – at the age of 29 – in a defeat against Denmark.

A supportive colleague

The Hannover star was made club captain in August 2007, and was second-choice to Jens Lehmann as Germany reached the final of UEFA Euro 2008.

Robert Enke first broke into the Germany senior squad when Jens Lehmann was still first-choice. - imago

Two incidents from that year which are detailed in Reng's book highlight not just Enke's respect for his fellow goalkeepers but also his compassion. Having learned he had beaten Timo Hildebrand for a place in Germany's European Championship squad, the 6'1" netminder called the Valencia player to console him.

In April 2008, meanwhile, Enke had sought out a phone number for Sven Ulreich, then a 19-year-old goalkeeper at Stuttgart, who had been criticised publically for his display against Leverkusen the day before.

Ulreich – who had played only a handful of matches and was still living at his family home at that stage – could scarcely believe that a Germany international had called to help him.

"When I hung up, I had goosebumps," the current Bayern keeper told Reng.

The players he helped - like Timo Hilderbrand - will never forget Robert Enke. - imago sportfotodienst

Despite fracturing a bone in his hand, Enke was in contention to be his country's number one for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. As Germany's goalkeeping coach Andreas Köpke said in A Life Too Short, after all, the Hannover player never made serious mistakes, and he was not at fault for any of the goals he conceded while playing for Joachim Löw's side.

Growth of the foundation

Enke was a harsh self-critic, however, and the depression that dogged him meant his life was cut tragically short. Following his death, his former club Hannover, the German Football Association (DFB), and the German Football League (DFL) established the Robert Enke Foundation.

Enke’s wife Teresa is naturally heavily involved, and the organisation runs both projects to help people who suffer from mental health problems as well as to support children with heart conditions.

Robert Enke made eight international appearances for Germany. - imago sportfotodienst

"In football, life has changed a lot," she told the Daily Telegraph in August 2017, an interview timed to mark what would have been her husband’s 40th birthday.

"Now in Germany the coaches are aware of the topic of mental illness and the players can talk to them about their problems. It is the first step and it is important to talk about it and not to stay alone with the illness. It is not a shameful thing to have it. We want them to use the network that we have created at the foundation."

An ongoing issue

German World Cup winner Per Mertesacker, who was 19 when he first met Enke while playing at Hannover, also wrote movingly on the foundation’s website about the need to help those who could be suffering in silence.

Robert Enke passed away while playing for Hannover, a club at which he is regarded as a legend. - Getty Images

"When people are acutely depressed, many of them seem to want to hide," he wrote in 2017. "I also understood that Robert spent most of his life the way I met him: rational, in quiet happiness, healthy. Like most sufferers, depression only got hold of him for short periods of his life. With his death, Robert gave us the task to better combat mental illnesses."

The foundation has helped make it easier for a professional footballer to access psychiatrists and therapy, while it has also raised awareness and offered support through school visits and the creation of a smartphone app. This year it has also backed the design of a short virtual reality experience, which aims to give people an idea of the symptoms that over four million people who have depression in Germany can suffer from.

"The issue has become more prevalent in society – it's being talked about more," Teresa Enke told reporters ahead of the anniversary of Robert’s death. "I'm very proud of what we've achieved in 10 years."

Don't suffer in silence:

Robert Enke Foundation: https://robert-enke-stiftung.de/depression-hilfe/beratungsangebot 

International hotlines: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Further information: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression