Alexander Zickler is battling for a place at FC Bayern München after years of ruinous injuries.
By Mark Bennett
When FC Bayern München signed 1. FC Dynamo Dresden striker Alexander Zickler back in 1993, he had played just 18 Bundesliga games and had only three goals to his name. Some experts suggested that Bayern had only bought him to give financial assistance to the side from the former German Democratic Republic.
And when he managed no more than eight appearances in his first season with the club, it seemed that the doubters' assessment was right. However, in his second year the former German international finally showed his qualities, making 29 appearances and scoring nine goals.
Shortly after that, however, his unbelievable litany of injury problems began. In the next few years Zickler tore knee ligaments and suffered countless ankle injuries as well as cartilage problems and pulled muscles, but time and time again he managed to come back.
Between 2002 and 2005, fate had some especially nasty experiences in store for the player capped 12 times by Germany. In 2002 doctors found a tumour in his right calf that needed removing. "
You could fill a book with Alexander's injuries," said a deeply concerned Franz Beckenbauer.
However, that was only the start of a terrible time for 'Zico'. In March 2003 he suffered a stress fracture to his right shin. The striker returned to action two days before the start of the 2003/04 season, only to break his right leg again during a training session.
'I heard it snap'
In March 2004 Zickler returned once more, but in his very first game for the reserve team against 1. SC Feucht, he suffered another heart-breaking setback. The striker was fouled in the first half and broke his right leg again. "I heard it snap," he said, with tears in his eyes.
Bayern, however, refused to give up on the 30-year-old and handed him a one-year extension to his contract that was to expire last summer. Inspired by this show of support, a defiant Zickler said: "I will return to the Bundesliga. I will not give up."
Zickler was true to his word and managed to take part in Bayern's training camp in Dubai in January. And this time he participated in every training session with his team-mates without any further problems.
During the training camp he also returned to competitive action for the first time. In a friendly against FC Energie Cottbus he played for the second half - and was only too happy to do it in the unfamiliar role of right-back. "If the coach had told me to play in goal I would have," he said. A few days later, Zickler then scored the only goal in Bayern's friendly win against 1. FC Köln.
The final reward for all of his efforts came on 21 January of the current Bundesliga season. With Bayern leading 3-0 in their match against Hamburger SV with nine minutes left to play, coach Felix Magath sent him on as a substitute. "It is great to be back. All the hard work has been worth it," said Zickler.
None the less, with his contract expiring in the summer, he is running out of time as he seeks a new contract at the Olympiastadion. After so many bad breaks in recent years, few would deny this resilient character a lucky one for a change.