Timo Baumgartl returned to action on Matchday 7 after beating testicular cancer as Union Berlin themselves beat Wolfsburg to stay top of the Bundesliga.
It was a huge day for Baumgartl, who hadn’t featured for Union since April 2022 after a precautionary medical check had discovered a testicular tumour, which had to be removed through an operation and then treated further with chemotherapy.
“When you get a cancer diagnosis, then you inevitably have to think about what it's like when you're no longer there,” the defender said of his health at the time, which clearly shows what Baumgartl has had to go through.
However, the 26-year-old has now gladly left that behind him. He has battled back and once again returned to action after five months out as Union faced Wolfsburg. It was undoubtedly an emotional moment. And one that Baumgartl almost certainly didn’t expect to enjoy as a Bundesliga leader.
Watch: Union beat Wolfsburg to stay top of the table
Although his life has changed somewhat in recent months, football is and remains his passion. That’s why he worked hard to make a comeback and is delighted to finally be able to play once again.
“It's an overwhelming feeling to say you’re going from the hospital to the football pitch,” Baumgartl had already said after the first training sessions.
He was an unexpected inclusion in the matchday squad the previous weekend, so it was even more of a surprise when his name appeared in the starting XI to face Wolfsburg.
“It was time to throw him in the deep end,” coach Urs Fischer said at his press conference after the game.
“We just told him yesterday that he was going to start. You should’ve seen his face, starting after such a long disease, he was elated. He has worked really hard and earned his start.”
And Baumgartl proved it was indeed the right time. The defender barely put a foot wrong, having the fourth-most touches of any Union player over the 90 minutes and finding a teammate with a decent 79 per cent of passes, before the Stadion An der Alten Försterei rose to its collective feet and applauded on 62 minutes as he was substituted.
He was also present in the celebrations after the full-time whistle as the team and fans enjoyed their status as Bundesliga leaders for another matchday.
“It’s exactly what I dreamed of throughout the chemotherapy, to come back like this, being in the starting XI and winning,” Baumgartl told broadcaster DAZN.
“This was for all the people I met on the oncology ward. So many of them have messaged me to say it makes them proud that I’m back on the pitch and that it gives them positive impetus. For all those who have also done it. I’m delighted to be here again.”
Watch: Baumgartl: "My comeback is for everyone battling cancer"
Baumgartl’s story comes in the wake of Marco Richter’s own return. The Hertha Berlin forward was also diagnosed with a malignant testicular tumour at the end of last season and had to undergo an operation. He returned to competitive action on Matchday 4 before coming off the bench the following week to score back at boyhood club Augsburg.
Both players’ successful returns not only give hope to Borussia Dortmund’s Sebastien Haller, who is also undergoing chemotherapy for testicular cancer, but for any person – in the sporting world or not – that they can get back to normality after such a devastating diagnosis.
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