Book Review – A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng

a-life-too-short-front-coverRobert Enke was a tremendously gifted goalkeeper. He had eight German caps to his name and had established himself as one of Europe’s most reliable, most talented players.

He was a splendid human being as well; caring, kind-hearted, thoughtful. But, as Ronald Reng shows in this remarkable piece of biographical writing, clinical depression can take whoever it wants and Enke was one of its unfortunate victims.

Reng, a journalist and friend of Enke, had begun work on this book before the goalkeeper’s suicide and with such a troubled life story to tell, he continued to write it after the footballer’s death. And we’re all the better for it.

A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke is a fine piece of work and, justifiably, it was winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2011. Reng wonderfully balances Enke’s personal woes with his professional highs and lows and, more pertinently, he highlights with staggering honesty the way the two intertwine.

For Enke was a man afraid of his own success. He feared failure to an extent beyond comprehension for anybody who has not suffered depression themselves. That fear, that all-encompassing fear, led Enke to step in front of a passing train on 10th November 2009, leaving his wife, Teresa, and adopted daughter, Leila, behind.

Reng styles his writing sensibly and places significant emphasis on Enke’s most harrowing moments, one of which being a 3-2 defeat as Barcelona ‘keeper against FC Novelda, a Spanish Third Division side. His hesitance off the line was, in part, the fault that led to Novelda’s winning goal.

For most, it could be forgotten in weeks. But not for Enke.

His story, so well encapsulated here, transcends so much further than football, for depression is an illness that can affect anyone. It plays on your mind and for Enke, it made his thoughts dark and his days long, bleak and tiresome.

Reng, as a writer, cannot simply throw you into Enke’s mindset but he comes as close as is humanly possible and, as this life story reaches its nigh, you can’t help but feel saddened.

What is worth noting, though, is that while emotion proves to be the focal point of this biography, it also enriches you and open your eyes. When we talk of football, or sport, we usually talk of scandal, of competition, of victory and of defeat.

But the lives within it often carry the best tales. This story brings to the fore the terror and the heartache that depression can bring on families and on individuals.

Enke’s life, it’s meandering intricacies and relationships, is beautifully told by Reng. It’s harrowing in its substance but poetic nonetheless and is accessible to all.

RIP Robert Enke.