Sebastian Deisler, much like David Beckham, burst on to the scene when he scored a goal so youthfully brash and unpredictable that he was immediately hailed as the new hope of the nation. Deisler's goal, like Beckham's wondrous strike against Wimbledon in August 1996, originated from the halfway line but - unlike the England captain - the young German picked up the ball and dribbled past six 1860 Munich players before finishing off the move with remarkable aplomb.
That was in 1999. Four years later, Beckham is mingling with Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Carlos down in Madrid and sending sunny picture messages to the Neville brothers. Deisler, meanwhile, will spend this Christmas in the Max-Planck-Institut in Munich, where he is being treated for depression.
The drama surrounding Deisler has gripped the whole of Germany. Partly because he plays for Bayern Munich, a club nicknamed FC Hollywood for its seemingly unwitting, but yet endless, capacity to court controversy - but also because the news of his problems came just a few months after another Bundesliga player was diagnosed with depression and exhaustion.
In October, 25-year-old Czech Jan Simak simply vanished without a trace from Hanover before commenting a few days later that he wanted 'to leave the murky world of football and set up a pub in South Bohmen'. He added that he could no longer take the pressure of being a professional footballer.
Deisler, meanwhile, says that he is in no rush to return to the game. 'There is no time plan and I won't put myself under pressure any more. That is a lesson I have learned in the past few weeks. The time [when I return to football] is still a long way away. First I have to get well,' he said in a rare interview.
'I know that I am suffering from depression, that I am suffering from an illness. I need to be left in peace. When the time is right, I will say more.'
German national coach Rudi Völler, who has followed events closely, is now considering bringing in a psychologist to work with the national team players. 'You have to learn the lesson from what has happened to Sebastian,' Völler said. 'At the moment I am trying to find out who would be interested in help but the truth is that the pressure on the players are just getting bigger and bigger. It is getting out of hand.'
The German tabloids, meanwhile, have had a field day and openly speculated on why Deisler has fallen ill. Was it the divorce of his parents? Was it the fact that he grew up in the small town of Lörrach and wasn't prepared for the outside world? Or was it perhaps the many injuries he has suffered (15 injuries and five operations already)?
And then there was the revelation that 'Dalai Deisler', as Bild called him, was being visited by people from a mysterious Buddhist temple in Berlin that was followed by a report that claimed that Bayern Munich had hired a private detective to spy on the 'sect'. In addition, a political feud ensued among the three major parties in Bavaria after the Ministerpresident, Edmund Stoiber, claimed that Deisler had been a waste of money.
And all through this, the role of Bayern Munich as a club has been ambiguous. They have a reputation of being the most arrogant of arrogant footballing superpowers and Deisler at one stage asked them to apologise for making disparaging comments about his Buddhist friends.
And managing director Uli Hoeness seemed rather perplexed when he found out that some of the players can't cope with the pressure of representing Bayern. Speaking about another player who has lost his form since moving to Munich, Ze Roberto, Hoeness said: 'I don't know what has happened but he has never really seemed at ease here in Munich. Maybe we put to much pressure on him. He is a sensitive person, you know.'
However, Bayern are also well-known for taking responsibility for their current and former players. Gerd Müller, who played for Bayern between 1964 and 1979, has described how Hoeness saved his life when he was on the verge of drinking himself to death after his career had ended.
And Hoeness said this week that the club was doing everything to help Deisler. 'It is important to talk about the person Sebastian Deisler rather than the footballer Sebastian Deisler at this moment. He is ill and it is our duty as a club to make sure that he gets better.'
· 8 years ago