A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng

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On the 10th of November, 2009, thirty two year old Robert Enke positioned himself in front of a regional express train at a level crossing in Eilvese, Neustadt am Rubenberge. He was at the prime of his career as a seasoned goalkeeper and was the forerunner to represent Germany in the ensuing 2010 World Cup, ahead of the highly rated Rene Adler, Manuel Neuer and Tim Wiese. He also left behind a grief stricken wife and an adopted daughter. His suicide triggered shock waves among the world footballing and sporting fraternity. So what drove this talented footballer to such a drastic action? An action that not only put paid to a glittering career but also shattered the world of at least two nerve stricken families.

Ronald Reng, a sports journalist and a close friend of Robert Enke attempts to answer this very question in his masterpiece. This is not a book about either an individual or his exploits at an aspect of a game he perfected. It is a story involving an unfortunate paradox. A dreadful pull and tug of contradictions that makes a human being look valiant in the exterior while he is being torn apart from within. This is the story of a vile and vicious predator called depression which lurks in stealth before springing upon its gullible victim in a merciless fashion. Ronald Reng makes a fascinating and deeply moving plea through his book to everyone (whether athlete or non-athlete) plagued by the dread of depression to boldly acknowledge the fact and reach out for assistance. A concerted effort at shedding inhibitions can go a great way in preventing irreparable damage.

Robert Enke in an otherwise happy life, suffered the pangs of depression only twice – the last bout separating the first by a span of 7 years. Yet these two episodes were sufficient to induce him to perform the unthinkable. In spite of the best and honest efforts by friends and families to stem the rot, Enke plummeted rapidly into a deep and dark abyss, the only form of escape from which (according to him) was death. With eight international caps to his name and four seasons of scintillating football with the Bundesliga club Hannover96, Robert Enke had the world at his feet. Although hit terribly hard by the death of his firstborn Lara, courtesy a congenital heart defect that shortened her life span to just two difficult years, Enke and his wife Teresa formed a contended lot. With a closely knit clique of friends and a agent par excellence Jorg Neblung, Enke seemed headed for greatness. But as Reng notes, from a reading of the private diaries of the footballer,Enke was waging a war of attrition from inside. A war which consisted of multiple battles of differing magnitude. While he won a fair share of these, he ultimately succumbed to the remorselessness of his enemy.

The last Chapter that details the meticulous preparedness by Robert Enke in plotting and working out the details of his own death is heart breaking. But at no point in the book does Ronald Reng allow his passionate friendship to transgress into the realm of bias. He maintains a stoic and commendable veneer of impassivity and neutrality while discussing Enke the depressive. What should have been an impossibly arduous endeavour is transformed into a remarkable piece of work. It is no wonder that “A Life Too Short” bagged the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2011.

“A Life Too Short” – A magisterial tribute to a regal footballer and a courageous human being.

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