On November 10, 2009, Robert Enke stepped in front of an express train at a crossing in the German village of Eilvese. At age 32, Robert left behind a young family: he and his wife, Teresa, had just adopted a baby girl only six months earlier. And Robert was also at the top of his professional career. He was the star goalkeeper for the club Hannover 96 of the Bundesliga, and he was expected to be the starting keeper for the German national team at the World Cup in South Africa. But despite this success, and the new addition to his family, Robert was unable to overcome a severe clinical depression that had gripped him for months. Only a small circle of family and friends knew of the depth of his illness. For others, both those who knew Robert personally and those who knew of him only as one of Germany’s best footballers, his death was an incomprehensible shock.
Ronald Reng was among those stunned by Robert Enke’s death. An award-winning German sports journalist based in Barcelona, Ronnie had meet Robert in 2002, when he was the standout keeper for the Portuguese side Benfica. The two men became friends when Robert moved to Barcelona months later, after signing with the city’s storied club. But Ronnie was never aware of his friend’s depression, and he was left to ask what could have drawn Robert, a man with seemingly everything to live for, to the belief that death was his only solution. The answers unfolded in the research and writing of his biography A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke (Yellow Jersey Press, 2011).
In writing his friend’s life story, Ronnie drew upon the diaries and letters of Robert and Teresa, interviews with Robert’s friends, family, teammates and coaches, and his own conversations with Robert over the years. As he explains in the interview, his aim was to tell Robert’s story from Robert’s own perspective. In this, he succeeds. Readers gain a sense of the anxiety and anticipation as a football keeper tracks his opponents and then decides, in the space of a split-second, whether to leap or retreat. And readers also realize how debilitating and uncontrollable depression can be. Robert did everything that is recommended to battle depression: he admitted his illness, sought medical help, took medications, and pushed himself out of bed to follow a structured routine. Still, his thoughts remained black.
Ronnie’s portrait of his friend is an extraordinary piece of writing, and the book was the deserving winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for 2011. The story is indeed a tragedy. Robert Enke was, at once, a remarkably gifted athlete and also a pleasant and humble man. Readers will like him, and root for him, and ache for him. And I believe that those who pick up the book will hold the thought while reading, as I did: “I hope this ends differently that I know it does.”