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Speaking to Robert Enke

Andy Mitten on the late Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke, who was due to be interviewed for FourFourTwo after Wolfsburg vs Manchester United next month...

IâÂÂve just arrived at Camp Nou for a game whose importance is reflected by the size of the crowd.

ItâÂÂs 10pm and maybe 20,000 are inside the ground for a cup game against third-level Cultural Leonesa; Barça are already 2-0 up from the first leg.

I donâÂÂt have to file any copy tonight, so I was going to watch some of the emerging Barça stars closely.

Then I switch on my computer in the press box and read that the German goalkeeper Robert Enke has died.

I was going to interview Enke in Hanover on December 9, the morning after Wolfsburg vs Manchester United.

My mate, the German writer Ronald Reng, is a good friend of Enke and has spoken exceptionally well of him for years.

With United playing close by, Reng fixed it up for me to interview Enke for FourFourTwo. Only this morning, he emailed to say that heâÂÂd just spoken to EnkeâÂÂs wife.

Reng recently emailed me the following piece to ask if I could read through it.

While his English is very good, writing in another language isnâÂÂt easy and he wanted me to give it the once-over.

This is a far better synopsis of Enke than anything I could write. IâÂÂll leave it how it was sent.

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Interview with Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke, who had to overcome unemployment and the death of his daughter to become GermanyâÂÂs No.1.
By Ronald Reng

At the end of our interview, Robert Enke offers to drive me down to the commuter train station at Neustadt.

He knows the timetable by heart, as he regularly takes the local train from the small village where he lives to Hanover, even now that he is GermanyâÂÂs No.1 goalkeeper. âÂÂThe connections are good and fastâÂÂ, he simply states.

If anyone needed any proof that Enke â who will play for Germany in the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan this Wednesday â is special, it would be the image of one of the countryâÂÂs brightest stars sitting between the locals on a commuter train.

But of his whole life is proof that he is in many ways a unique goalkeeper.

Having captained Benfica at 23, he turned down offers from Manchester United and Roma to join FC Barcelona.

He didn't make it there and when Barça sent him to Istanbul two years later, he refused to play for Fenerbahce.

âÂÂI just felt totally out of place in Turkey with the exaggerated passion of the fans and the club," he says. "I felt absolutely lonely and deeply sad.âÂÂ

Instead, he chose to be unemployed.

After half a year out of work, he was only offered a job in SpainâÂÂs Second Division, at Tenerife.

ThatâÂÂs the way many prosperous talents disappear â into mediocrity. But in no manâÂÂs land, EnkeâÂÂs career restarted.

From Tenerife he worked his way up again. At Hanover, forever a midtable Bundesliga club, he managed at the late age of 31 to become the No.1 of three-times World Cup winners Germany.

âÂÂI suppose it has to be my destiny that everything in my career has to be weird,â he says. âÂÂJust sometimes, I wished it would have been a tiny bit easier.âÂÂ

When he says that, while driving me to the station, I instinctively look down to the car keys in the ignition. On the key-ring fob there is a picture of his daughter Lara.

She was born with a cardiac defect. She spent her first six months in intensive care.

Enke lived between the training pitch and the hospital. There are images you do not forget: âÂÂLara, my wife and I sitting in the deserted hospital canteen on Christmas Eve, eating salmon with potatoes.âÂÂ

On three occasions, Lara survived life-threatening surgery. On September 17 2006, just after her second birthday, she died after what should have been straightforward ear surgery.

He has never spoken publicly about her death, but he says he likes to talk about her with friends, with people who got to know her.

âÂÂRemember the photos of her we looked at yesterday? In every second picture, she was smiling. She was such a happy and brave girl.âÂÂ

She has taught him something he will not forget: âÂÂI donâÂÂt want to minimise football; the sport is very important to me and I am very ambitious. But in the end, it's always just football.

Many fans and media in Germany say he is too polite, too softly-spoken. What they really mean is that he lacks character. They confuse a big mouth with charisma.

Germany has always regarded itself as the land of goalkeepers; since the 1970s and the great Sepp Maier, the national team has always been protected by world-class, strong-minded, not to say crazy goalkeepers.

There were the 1980s with Rambo in the cinema and Harald Schumacher in the Germany goal, who kept on chewing his chewing-gum after he kung-fu kicked FranceâÂÂs Battiston half to death in the World Cup semi-final 1982.

Then came the 1990s with Oliver 'Gorilla' Kahn and finally a new century with 'Mad Jens' Lehmann.

In front of this gallery of ancestral portraits now stands Robert Enke. He is as good as any German goalkeeper has ever been, with lightning reflexes and a strong control of the penalty area. He just refuses to give up his sensibility.

âÂÂI will never try to psych out or speak badly about one of my rivals for the No.1 spot. I know what respect is.âÂÂ

[TEXT ENDS]

Robert Enke, rest in peace.

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