Andreas Reinke has experienced a fair few challenges during his long career, but the veteran Werder Bremen goalkeeper is having to draw on previously untapped reserves of resolve to deal with his current situation. A collision with opponent Martin Stranzl in Bremen's goalless draw at VfB Stuttgart on 8 February left him in intensive care, and after undergoing reconstructive surgery to his face, he is in reflective mood.
"Of course, I look at everything through different eyes now," said the 37-year-old. "But I always knew football wasn't the most important thing in life." Contemplation is a natural reaction to adversity and his collision with Stranzl at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion certainly qualifies as such. "My nose was broken in two or three places, I suffered a fractured skull and bone fragments almost severed my meninges [the tissue that envelops the brain and spinal cord]," the player said. "Doctors told me the injuries were consistent with a serious car crash."
On the brink
Reinke had five hours of emergency surgery and although the operation has been a resounding success with a full recovery expected, the mental scars are indelible. "It was not clear if I would wake up again after surgery and there was also a possibility that I could have been handicapped," said the goalkeeper, who has well over 200 appearances in the German top flight for Bremen, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, FC St. Pauli and Hamburger SV, either side of spells abroad at Real Murcia CF and Iraklis FC.
"I'm just thankful that I can sit here before you. It could all have been very different," Reinke continued. "Before the operation, I asked a nurse to give me a pen and piece of paper and I started to write down some personal things to my family and my friends. It was important to me." Reinke will now get to spend a lot of time with them, but undaunted by the horrific injury, he is already targeting a return to action, saying: "I've not thought about retirement, not for one second. The doctors said it'll take around six weeks for my bones to heal, but I will try to get a facial mask to get back to practice before then."
That could put Reinke on course for a dream comeback in the UEFA Champions League final at the Stade de France in May, yet for now the onus is on understudy Tim Wiese. The 24-year-old made his Bundesliga debut against Stuttgart (Reinke had not missed a Bundesliga game in two and a half seasons at the Weserstadion) and has impressed since, though his sympathies lie with his team-mate. "Sport can be so cruel sometimes," he said. "The most important thing is for Andreas to recover as soon as possible."
Wiese could hinder a full recovery, however, having excelled on his UEFA Champions League bow against Juventus last week. He is already being mooted for international honours when the ageing Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann finally give way, and Reinke could struggle to regain his place. But after everything he has been through this month, even entertaining such thoughts could be considered a bonus.
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