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Sports

A year after the suicide of goalkeeper Enke – has football changed?

The suicide of German national goalkeeper Robert Enke a year ago sent a wave of shock through the world of soccer. Clubs promised to help depressed players. However in football, does success come first?

Black flag with Enke's face on, in a crowd

Hannover fans commemorated Enke after his suicide

Professional football can put enormous pressure on its players. In the Bundesliga, the race for goals, points, championship and money can all pile on the pressure. However, one year on from the tragic death of former national goalkeeper Robert Enke, what has really changed to help troubled players?

As goalkeeper for Eintracht Frankfurt, Bochum, Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern, Thomas Ernst has experienced the highs and lows of the football league. He is currently technical director at second league club Bochum. From his years of playing experience, he knows about the mental condition of the players.

Thomas Ernst with Bochum player Chong Tese

Thomas Ernst (right) with Bochum player Chong Tese

"There are situations during a game when people whistle and shout personal insults at you, where every player meets challenges they cannot cope with," Ernst told Deutsche Welle.

"The pressure is there in training, and again when playing in the stadium," said Ernst. "It can really build up, and that stresses you out."

Footballers' union provides help

Even before Robert Enke's death, the union that looks after contract footballers, the VdV, was witnessing an increase of players seeking help. The VdV has been offering psychological and pastoral advice to footballers for several years, said its chief executive Ulf Baranowsky.

"Immediately after the tragic death of Robert Enke, the number of people inquiring about these services shot up," said Baranowsky.

Candles and pictures at a memorial to Robert Enke

The outpouring of grief after Enke's death highlighted the issue of depression in sports

Since Enke's death more than two dozen players have sought advice or counseling through the VdV. Players can contact the union in strict confidentiality, or anonymously by email if they wish.

The facade is all part of the game

For the psychologist Thomas Graw, who has worked with several Bundesliga professionals, Robert Enke's case was not an isolated one. "Players learn to have certain internal processes to shield their feelings from the outside," said Graw. "They see it as part of their job and their career," he added. Even if a player looks fine from the outside, he could be suffering inside.

The psychologists who work with the VdV look out for whether a player might be suffering from a short-term mood fluctuation, or more long-term depression. Problems include fear of failure, performance anxiety, issues with coaches, bullying and "anything that affects the psyche" said Baronowsky.

Fans hold up sign saying 'Enke'

Clubs and teammates need to be more understanding about mental illness

Added to these problems is a lack of understanding from teammates and coaches.

"I can well imagine that there are many coaches and teammates who reject the idea completely and just say, 'All right, well, he has no place playing here then,'" said Graw.

Change unlikely

In many of the speeches which were made after Robert Enke's death, voices from across the world of soccer said more must be done to help those suffering from mental illness. A major rethink was ordered across the multi-million dollar business of football.

However, according to Thomas Ernst at Bochum, these words have failed to turn into real actions. There has been little progress in clubs' understanding and tackling of those with mental illness. "Basically, in the businesses and in the processes, nothing has changed."

Author: Klaus Deuse (cb)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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