Hanover - Few players served the Hannover 96 cause more faithfully down the years than record appearance holder Steven Cherundolo, who announced his retirement in March 2014.
A native of Rockford, Illinois, Cherundolo grew up in San Diego and signed on with Hannover, then in Bundesliga 2, back in 1999 after a couple of years playing at college level for the University of Portland. He spent the rest of his career with the Lower Saxony outfit in a demonstration of loyalty rarely seen in modern football.
His early progress in the German game was interrupted by a knee injury - which ironically brought his career to an end in 2014. By 2001/02, Cherundolo was Hannover's undisputed first-choice right back, playing an instrumental role in the Reds' successful push for promotion that season. "Steven played an unbelievable role in Hannover's rise to the top," said club president Martin Kind.
Already an established US international, he became a back-row mainstay as the club battled to establish themselves in the top flight over the next few years. In 2005 he turned down the opportunity to move to Premier League side Bolton Wanderers FC, opting to remain in a city, and league, where he evidently felt very much at home. "I never considered leaving," explained Cherundolo. "I found a club that proved to be the perfect fit for me."
After more than one close encounter with relegation and in the wake of a particularly testing campaign in 2009-10, Hannover turned their fortunes around in spectacular fashion. Having matured into an onfield leader over the years, Cherundolo was given the captain's armband in the summer of 2010 by then head coach Mirko Slomka following the departure of Hanno Balitsch to Leverkusen.
The 96ers went on to enjoy their best-ever season in the top flight, finishing fourth and qualifying for Europe. In 2011/12, they again made the cut for the UEFA Europa League and Cherundolo, now one of the veterans in the side, remained an integral part of Slomka's plans going forward. "I've had several good personal moments," said the 35-year-old. "But what will stick with me is succeeding as a team. When you're the underdogs, which Hannover often were, succeeding as a collective is far more rewarding."
2013 was not as kind to Hannover and Cherundolo, who spent several months on the sidelines after undergoing an operation on his left knee. On Matchday 33 the US international was able to celebrate making his 299th appearance for the Reds, thereby overhauling Jürgen Bandura in the record books.
The "Mayor of Hannover" managed to break through the 300 mark, making two appearances in December 2013 on his return from the latest bout of knee problems. In March 2014, however, he finally gave in to the ongoing problems his knee was causing and decided to call it a day. "It's been a dream to play for Hannover 96, but it's over now.
My knee just hasn't been holding up recently and I'm no longer able to help the team the way I want," admitted Cherundolo, who leaves behind lasting memories of a rare commodity in modern football - a man who "lived and breathed" Hannover 96, a one-team man, a legend.