Enke suicide throws black veil over Germany's 2009

BERLIN, Dec 21, 2009 (AFP) - While the highlight of Germany's football year was the impressive win in Moscow to book their World Cup berth, the undoubted low point was the suicide of goalkeeper Robert Enke.

The 32-year-old flung himself under a commuter train on November 10 after a long battle with depression made more acute by losing his place in the national team to Rene Adler.

An image of Robert Enke at a stadium in Germnay (AFP photo)

Leverkusen's Adler was between the posts in Moscow on October 10 as Miroslav Klose's first-half goal sealed a 1-0 win which put Germany top of their group and booked their World Cup finals berth.

But Enke's suicide exactly a month later, leaving behind a young widow and baby daughter, shocked the whole of football-mad Germany.

Germany's stars, like captain Michael Ballack who had known Enke since he was 13, were left speechless by the tragedy.

The friendly with Chile on November 14 was called off as a mark of respect and around 35,000 mourners - including the entire Germany squad - paid their last respects at Enke's memorial service held at Hanover's stadium.

In the wake of the tragedy, Theo Zwanziger, the president of the German Football Federation, called for more understanding and compassion for the game's top stars.

But events in Stuttgart barely a month later showed football had learned precious little from the tragedy.

With their team third from bottom of the Bundesliga, a group of angry supporters stopped the team bus to hurl abuse and death threats at the Stuttgart team.

Less than 24 hours later, coach Markus Babbel was fired and replaced by Switzerland's Christian Gross with immediate results as the Germans beat Unirea Urziceni 3-1 to advance in the Champions League.

Bizarrely, at that point Stuttgart were 16th in the league and also in the last 16 of European football's most lucrative competition.

Bayern Munich's impressive 4-1 win at Juventus also put them through to the knock-out stages, but defending champions Wolfsburg failed to make the last 16 after a comprehensive 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester United.

Former England striker Michael Owen rolled back the years with a hat-trick to leave Armin Veh's side left to contest the Europa League.

Wolfsburg have been a shadow of their former selves having won the Bundesliga title for the first time under coach Felix Magath.

Magath underlined his prowess as one of Germany's top coaches having steered Bayern Munich to back-to-back league and cup doubles before he was sacked in February 2007.

Having recruited strikers Grafite and Edin Dzeko after he took over the Wolves in July 2007, the pair responded with 54 goals between them as Wolfsburg romped to the league title.

Dzeko has since been linked to Manchester United and AC Milan.

While Wolfsburg hunted down their first league title, Bayern parted company with coach Jurgen Klinsmann in April, but finished the season second under caretaker coach Jupp Heynckes and then appointed Louis van Gaal to take charge.

He arrived in Munich having steered AZ Alkmaar to the Dutch title and with a reputation as a tough disciplinarian.

After a slow start, they found themselves eighth in the league after eight games, but finished the year strongly to finish 2009 third in the league.

Van Gaal secured his position with his side's win in Turin and his side's 5-2 hammering of Hertha Berlin on December 19 means Bayern went into the winter break just two points behind league leaders Leverkusen.

Source: AFP

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