The Eintracht Frankfurt skipper was overwhelmed after returning to the starting line-up after cancer scare.
Plenty of players spend 10 months away from the starting line up at some stage in their career. It could be down to a torn ACL, or a metatarsal fracture that doesn’t heal quite right. Not many can say they’ve beaten cancer while they were out.
Russ started and played 80 minutes in Eintracht’s 0-0 draw with Hamburg on Matchday 25, the first time he was in the line-up from the opening whistle in the Bundesliga since he was diagnosed with testicular cancer back in May. The 31-year-old was excited to be back, and said the start came as something of a surprise.
Watch: Russ 'had to be thrown in at some point!'
“I was so happy about it,” Russ said. “We trained a little bit this morning, and the coach took took me aside then. It wasn’t clear if Makoto Hasebe would be able to play and he asked me if I could manage starting. I told him I’d have to be thrown in at the deep end at some stage!”
Despite the good news coming suddenly, Russ and Eintracht had managed his return carefully. The defender didn’t participate in any training until after he had been given a clean bill of health last October, and he didn’t rejoin team training until the Eagles’ winter training camp in Dubai.
Russ made his first appearance in a competitive match for Eintracht when he was brought on in the final minute of a 1-0 win over Arminia Bielefeld in a DFB Cup quarter final at the end of February. Russ knew then that the hardest work was behind him.
“It was a very emotional moment for me, after such a long time - a tough time - away. When the coach called my name to go on as a substitute, I wasn’t nervous at all. I just took in the atmosphere,” said Russ.
“It was important for me that everybody who had supported me through the hard times was there in the stadium. My family, my wife. I was so happy they got to be there and share that moment with me.”
Russ followed that short stint on the pitch in the cup with 90 minutes in a friendly against fifth-tier SC Hessen Dreieich a week later, and about half an hour as a substitute in Frankfurt’s 3-0 loss at Bayern Munich on Matchday 24. He was ready for the next step.
“For my first start back, I’m satisfied,” Russ said. “Toward the end I think I ran out of steam a bit. I need to keep working. It took nine months before I could get back into the starting XI, but that just shows that you can put illnesses like this behind you.”
Russ may never have known he had cancer at all were it not for a doping test in May of 2016. Anti-doping authorities detected elevated hormone levels in his sample - but rather than sanctioning him, they told him to see a doctor. They surmised - correctly it turned out - that the levels were so high that Russ likely had a medical issue.
Watch: Russ' journey back from cancer:
Russ played in the first of two matches in Frankfurt’s relegation playoff with Nuremberg, then spent the summer receiving treatment for his cancer. That treatment was a success, and after a long period of building up his strength and endurance, Russ is back to doing what he does best: battling at the back with opposing attackers.
“Our goal was to keep a clean sheet, which we hadn’t managed to do in a while,” he said after the draw with Hamburg. “We knew it would be a gritty match. We hoped we could fight our way into the game, and maybe take all three points.”
On Saturday, Eintracht had to settle for just one - but at least now their courageous captain knows he has plenty of “next times” ahead to lead the charge.