On Nov. 8, 2009, Robert Enke led Hannover against Hamburg in Germany's famous northern derby. On the way to the field, he spotted his friend and national team colleague Piotr Trochowski. The attacking midfielder was an adversary that day, but Enke gave him a hug before leaving the tunnel and heading out onto the field for kickoff. The match ended 2-2 but only because Enke had produced one of the finest performances of his career.
He embarked upon a lap around the stadium to acknowledge the crowd, as if keen to share his joy at returning to soccer after a two-month hiatus, before heading home and enjoying dinner with his neighbors and family.
Two days later, on Nov. 10, he took his own life. He was only 32.
The tragedy sent shockwaves across Germany, raising questions as to why a goalkeeper who was set to be Germany's No. 1 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa took such a drastic decision. It was only after his wife, Teresa, held a press conference that people learned that her husband had been battling depression for six years. His memorial service was attended by nearly 40,000 people - the biggest in German sports history.
Ronald Reng’s book on his friend Robert, A Life Too Short, further opened up Enke’s life before the world and the beautifully written biography made people question the way we look at soccer players. It begged the question as to what - if anything - was being done by federations and clubs to tackle depression, which before Enke’s death was a major taboo within the game, often considered a sign of weakness.
Robert was, professionally, at the peak of his powers when he died and had enjoyed a fine career. Since shining for Benfica back at the turn of the millennium, he had been courted by the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Atletico Madrid before signing for Barcelona in the summer of 2002. He seemed set for superstardom. Instead, Louis Van Gaal failed to see what Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho at Porto had seen in Enke, and the Dutchman relegated him to the bench in favor of Victor Valdes, who had just been promoted from the youth team.