Every club needs good squad players in order to thrive. In goalkeeper Tom Starke, Bayern Munich have one of the most dependable and successful of all time.
Like for much of his spell in Bavaria, Starke had to wait patiently this season for his chance to shine. The 36-year-old had been on the bench for six Bundesliga matches before he was unexpectedly thrust into action in the Matchday 32 win over Darmstadt.
The former Hoffenheim netminder earned a rare start when Sven Ulreich suffered an elbow injury in training on Friday. With first-choice Manuel Neuer out for the rest of the season, Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti was indebted to Starke for helping his side to a 23rd win of the campaign.
The veteran made a fingertip save from Felix Platte in the first half and produced a couple more highlight-reel stops in the second period as Bayern held on to a one-goal lead.
On his first Bundesliga appearance since March 2014, Starke then kept out a penalty from ex-Bayern man Hamit Altintop with only four minutes left.
“When I came out of the tunnel and ran towards the fans to warm up, things began to tingle again,” Starke told Bayern’s website after the game.
“It was just wonderful... I enjoyed every minute.
“It was like representing your country for me today. You can’t imagine a better game as a goalkeeper.”
Even more remarkable than Starke’s performance, however, is his growing medal haul. The ex-Paderborn and Duisburg keeper joined Bayern from Hoffenheim in 2012 but Saturday was just his eighth competitive appearance for the German champions.
Despite that, the former Germany under-21 international has now won 13 trophies as a Bayern player. He has played league matches in three of his five seasons in Bavaria but also picked up honours for waiting in the wings in matchday squads during the two campaigns he did not feature in.
Starke was also ready to step in for Neuer from the bench throughout the whole of the club’s 2012/2013 Champions League-winning campaign, while he also has medals in the DFB Cup (three), the DFL Supercup (two), the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
The third-choice custodian is clearly a popular figure at Bayern – Ancelotti said that everyone had to celebrate his “sensational” display against Darmstadt – and he is also one of football’s unsung heroes. Working away quietly in the background, always on call and helping to push Neuer at training, his self-sacrifice is highly valued.
Starke’s contract runs out in the summer but he now says “everything is open” as regards his playing future at the club. He feels his “body can handle” continuing for another year and that he does not necessarily want to retire just yet.
He already helps coach the under-14 goalkeepers at Bayern though and he said he would also be happy to extend his stay in Munich by becoming further involved with the academy.
Whatever the long-term plans, the man who has kept six clean sheets for Bayern and won a trophy for every 55 minutes he has played will get another opportunity to star in their final league games against RB Leipzig and Freiburg.
Neuer and Ulreich are unavailable through injury anyway but Starke’s joke when reflecting on his impressive showing against Darmstadt was also largely accurate.
“You can’t take me out of goal after that performance,” he said.