The suicide of Robert Enke, Germany’s best goalkeeper, has profoundly shocked the sport and a nation.
Although there are many tales of footballers who have taken their lives through depression after their brilliant careers were over, there have been very few as desperately sad as this in which an active international athlete still at the peak of his powers can see only one way out of his torment.
What could sports fans see from the outside? Or, indeed, his team-mates from the inside? Nothing but a model, quiet professional, captain of Bundesliga side Hannover 96, admired and respected by colleagues, living an idyllic life on a farm with a beautiful wife and adopted baby. At 32, he was bound for the World Cup as the climax of his career.
Yet at 6.25pm on Tuesday, Enke drove his Mercedes 4X4 to a railway crossing in Neustadt am Rubenberge, a couple of miles from his home outside Hanover, left his wallet and keys on the passenger seat of his unlocked car and waited to throw himself into the path of a regional express train travelling at 100mph.
Why? As Germany mourned, with the national team’s friendly against Chile on Saturday called off as a mark of respect, the extent of the despair which hid behind Enke’s garlanded public life was laid bare by the courageous Teresa, who had to identify his body, and by the doctor who had treated him for depression. They were the only ones who truly knew of his anguish.
The picture was painted of a superb sportsman who, while becoming haunted by anxiety in his professional career, had also never been able to come to terms in his private life with the death in 2006 of the couple’s two-year-old daughter Lara from a rare heart malformation.
Putting their lives back together, Enke and his wife adopted a three-month old baby girl, Leila, in May but Teresa revealed at a news conference in Hanover on Wednesday that Enke, still dogged by depression, had been afraid that the baby would be taken away from the family if his illness became known publicly.
"When he was acutely depressive, it was a difficult time. We thought we’d manage everything. We thought with love, we could do it. But you can’t," Teresa said. "We had Lara, we have Leila. I always wanted to help him to get through it. Robert didn’t want it to come out because of fear. He was scared of losing Leila."
The Lara tragedy dwarfed all else and yet anxiety in the public spotlight of his career just exacerbated Enke’s depression. "Football was everything; it was his elixir," Teresa said.
The peculiar individual responsibilities goalkeepers face bore down on him, forcing him to first seek psychiatric treatment when, at Barcelona in 2003, he was dropped after being blamed for their loss to a second division team on his debut.
At Fenerbahce, another brief stop on an unsettled career which took him to Spain, Portugal and Turkey, Enke left after one poor game which ended with him being pelted with missiles by fans. A fear of failure ate away at him, explained his doctor, Valentin Markser.
Six weeks ago, after a bacterial intestinal infection kept him sidelined, Enke again sought treatment. After years of being the solid ‘third man’ waiting to take over from the brilliant, noisy double act of Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann in the Mannschaft, he was expected to be Germany’s No 1 World Cup goalkeeper, although nothing was certain. He had been rested from this weekend’s squad.
"I tried to tell him that there’s always a solution," Teresa said. "I drove to training with him but he didn’t want to accept help any more."
Enke left a suicide note, apologising to his family and to the medics for misleading them into believing that he was well again.
The striking thing about the tributes to Enke was just how obviously genuine the admiration was; here was a man everyone thought, as German coach Joachim Loew did, to be "honourable, a lovely guy, an exceptional person."
Yet who really knew him? Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff broke down in tears after admitting that Enke’s plight had gone unnoticed by team-mates and officials alike.
So the soul-searching starts now.
"Why? The question is with us all. Why can professional athletes, celebrated as idols, come to such a decision?" asked German Football Federation president Theo Zwanziger.
"We will not be able to answer this question quickly but we owe it to Robert Enke to work towards an answer."
(C) The Telegraph Group,