Markus Babbel – from hospital to Hertha

It’s not often you hear about a footballer contracting a rare illness, it’s even more unlikely you see that same player make a comeback in the professional game. But, that’s exactly what happened to Markus Babbel. The German defender, who is best known by fans in England for his time at Liverpool, overcame a life-threatening illness to play football once more. But, what happened after his time in England came to an end?

Babbel started out with his hometown club Bayern Munich at a very early age, progressing through their youth system. He made a handful of appearances for the first team before moving on to fellow German club Hamburg in 1992. Following a successful two-year spell here, in which he became an established first-team player, Munich were convinced to buy him back.

The Munich years

Munich were the great force in German football at this time and Babbel was able to pick up several major honours during his time there. These included three Bundesliga titles, two German cups, the UEFA Cup and, of course, a runners-up medal for the famous 1998/99 Champions League Final against Manchester United.

Also, during his time with Munich, he broke into the German national side and became a regular member of the side. He picked up a winners medal from Euro 1996, after Germany beat Czechoslovakia in the final – a match Babbel played in. His performances at the competition did not go unnoticed and a rumoured move to Manchester United had been on the cards. However, the move did not go through and he remained at Munich for several more years – before joining Liverpool in June 2000.

In his first year at Infield, he helped the club to a fantastic treble of the League Cup, FA Cup and the UEFA Cup. He became known for his attacking play from full-back and even helped set up a goal in the UEFA Cup final. However, not all was well for Babbel, who had begun to complain of tiredness and fatigue towards the end of the season. Thinking it was just general wear and tear, he returned after the summer break with optimism.

Life-threatening

However, the problem continued and he was substituted at half-time during the first few games of the season. Further tests confirmed that Babbel was suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome – a rare illness that affects the nervous system and can cause life-threatening symptoms. This kept him out of action for around a year, most of which he spent in hospital back in Germany.

But when he returned to fitness, he was unable to get back into the first team, restricting him to just a few appearances in the 2002/03 season. He was sent out on loan to Blackburn for the next season, where he was a regular in the side. Upon his return to Liverpool, he left the club and moved back to Germany to join Stuttgart.

He found himself in and around the first team for the majority of his time at the club, and even helped them to the Bundesliga title in the 2006/07 season – which also proved to be his last playing season. However, he was able to stay on at the club as assistant manager to Armin Veh.

Manager Markus

With the club expected to once again challenge for major honours, there was understandably a lot of pressure on the duo. This began to show just a couple of months into the season and, with the club languishing in 11th in the league, Veh left the club. Babbel was appointed manager immediately and managed to turn the fortunes around and helped them to a third-placed finish.

Stuttgart rewarded him with an extended contract, but this was not to last. Despite helping them to second place in their Champions League group, the club continued to struggle in the league. In December 2009, with the club in 16th place in the Bundesliga and facing a battle to avoid relegation, Babbel was sacked.

After spending a few months away from the game, Babbel was given the chance to return to management with recently relegated Hertha ‘BSC’ Berlin. Here, Babbel regained a lot of credit as a manager as he helped the club win the league and gain an immediate return to the Bundesliga.

With just one game left until the end of the season, Babbel can look forward to a summer of building a team capable of competing in Germany’s top league. Nobody would begrudge Babbel a second chance at managing at the top. A man with such determination, which saw him battle for his life and return to professional football at the highest level, one cannot help but admire him.

Good luck Markus. If you continue to manage with such determination as you played, then a return to England might not be too far away.

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