Sebastian Deisler's soccer career has been ended by injuries and bouts of depression. Once heralded as the next great German soccer star, Deisler carried the weight of a nation's expectation with him onto the pitch.
Deisler (left) had the power and pace to be a legend -- maybe he didn't have the endurance
The sad sight of Sebastian Deisler announcing his retirement on Tuesday brought to an end the career of a player not only tipped for greatness but one touted as a potential German legend. While injuries and bouts of depression were certainly the main contributors to Deisler's retirement, could it be that the weight of such expectation also added to the premature end of such a promising career?
Deisler, known in the German game as "Das Supertalent," was lauded by everyone from coaches to journalists when he began his rise through the ranks at Borussia Mönchengladbach as an 18-year-old right winger blessed with acceleration, vision and a blistering shot.
Franz Beckenbauer said that Deisler was "physically and technically the best in Germany", while Rudi Völler said at the time that the youngster would be "influential for Germany for another ten years." The mass-circulation Bild newspaper famously exclaimed: "Basti Fantasti is magical!"
No fewer than 26 clubs were vying for his signature in 1999 when Gladbach were relegated. Deisler chose Hertha Berlin and prompted further exhortations of a legend in the making; the transfer seen by many as the next step of a journey which would see him eventually fulfil his potential at one of Europe's biggest clubs.
After inspiring Hertha to Champions League qualification from a new right-sided midfield berth and then victories in that competition against the likes of AC Milan and Chelsea, the widely held belief that his destiny lay among the greats gathered credence when Deisler moved to Bayern Munich.
Munich dream turns to nightmare
Deisler never hit the heights others expected of him
It was in Munich that it was all supposed to happen. If Germany has its own Theater of Dreams akin to Manchester United's Old Trafford, Bayern's former home at the Olympiastadion was it. Under the watchful eye of German icons such as Oli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Der Kaiser himself, and with first Ottmar Hitzfeld and then Felix Magath as his coach, Deisler could only prosper in such luminous company.
Hoeness himself joined the ever-rising chorus of approval on Deisler's arrival: "He's got unbelievable potential. It'll be great for him to be able to show everybody," he said at the time.
His performances in a Bayern shirt at times suggested that his elevation to the pantheon of German greats was on schedule. Deisler in full flow was an awesome sight; determination, quick feet and pin-point crosses combining with a controlled aggression and a will to win.
But it wasn't to be. Deisler's knee problems and the subsequent mental fragility born from the uncertainty and insecurities surrounding his future eventually wrecked his league and international career.
Twice injury ruled him out of World Cups that were his for the taking. Who can say how Germany would have played with a fully fit Deisler in the team in the 2002 final against Brazil? Maybe there would have been no need for the heart-breaking extra-time which brought defeat in the 2006 semi-final against Italy had "Basti Fantasti" been on the pitch in Dortmund.
An unachievable level of greatness?
Are all new stars expected to eclipse Der Kaiser?
"Das Supertalent" leaves these and many other questions unanswered, his body and mind no longer equipped for the rigors of the game he graced. Could he ever have reached the heights others expected of him? What constitutes a German legend anyway? Is it a player who can eclipse possibly the greatest of all, Franz Beckenbauer? If so, the bar is set incredibly high.
Many have tried and have been found wanting. Michael Ballack, currently Germany's one true world star, was another to show great potential and make good on his promise within the Bundesliga. But even he has tripped in making his next step; the mercurial midfielder is now seen as an industrious rather than skilful player in Chelsea's diamond-studded team, toiling in an English Premiership hardly short of star names.
Young stars shouldering the burden
Podolski's form for Germany has gone missing at Bayern
The likes of Benjamin Lauth and Benny Auer were also been saddled with the "Next Big Thing" tags early in their careers and both fell by the wayside. Currently, Bayern teammates Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm all share the burden of a country's high expectations. Their own performances and the current erratic form of their team suggest that their own journeys may have stalled on the autobahn to greatness.
Living up to one's own expectations is often hard enough, but trying to achieve those of others is particularly difficult, especially when that expectation is one as relative as greatness. Sebastian Deisler is unlikely to spend much time pondering this but those who continue to add such pressures onto the shoulders of already burdened young stars maybe should.