They say a footballer’s career is a short one. For Eintracht Frankfurt’s Marco Russ, life at the top end of the game must feel even more fleeting.
On Saturday evening, Russ came off the bench in the 74th minute to make his 25th appearance of the season. The venue: Berlin’s sold-out Olympiastadion. The occasion: the 75th DFB Cup final against the newly crowned Bundesliga champions and record cup winners Bayern Munich.
Some twenty minutes later, the native of Hanau, 25km east of Frankfurt, was celebrating his first ever major trophy as a professional, a truly wonderful achievement for a man that has been through the full range of emotions that football has to offer, and then some.
Rewind 4,403 days, to 29 April 2006. Russ is 20 years old and, having made a handful of appearances in the Bundesliga that season, is thrust into the starting XI to face the Bavarians in that year’s edition of the DFB Cup final. He performs admirably but Bayern’s experience tells and the favourites win 1-0.
A few seasons later in 2011, Eintracht are relegated and Russ departs for Wolfsburg, but he re-joins the club 18 months later and helps the Eagles qualify for the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League by finishing sixth. Then, in May 2016 comes the biggest low of his career when, with Frankfurt again deep in relegation trouble, a random drugs test reveals Russ to be suffering with testicular cancer.
Despite the shock of the diagnosis, Russ declares himself fit to play in the victorious relegation play-off against Nuremberg, despite his own goal in the first leg. He then withdraws from public life to concentrate on his recovery and beats the disease, making a triumphant return to the first team in early 2017.
Watch: Russ returns to the Commerzbank Arena after beating cancer
He was an unused substitute as Frankfurt lost once again in the DFB Cup final to Borussia Dortmund later that year, and he may well have thought his chance to lift the trophy had slipped away for good. But football has its way of rewarding hard work.
On Saturday evening, Russ was front and centre as the Frankfurt players held aloft the famous trophy for the fifth time in the club’s history. With half the stadium decked out in black and white, a sweeter moment for the defender there surely could not have been.
With all he has been through, it should also be remembered that Russ is still only 32 years of age. He has more milestones to achieve – one more appearance will take him to 300 in the Bundesliga – and he can look forward with relish to another European adventure next season.
Frankfurt will have a new coach, Adi Hütter, next term as Niko Kovac moves to Bayern. Since taking the reins in March 2016, the former Croatia boss has worked wonders for the club, from winning that relegation play-off, to a cup final appearance and then a first major trophy, as well as European qualification, for three decades. This has been a glorious chapter for the club, and though Kovac is the man that has presided over it, Russ’ journey may just be what comes to embody it.