Manni Bender - The unbreakable one
It was the 12th of March when a short article about Sven "Manni" Bender on Borussia Dortmund's homepage said that, in the best case, he would be out for only three weeks. During the game against Hoffenheim he injured a part of his shoulder, and even though nothing was broken, the doctors weren't too enthusiastic about it. I was devestated. If three weeks were the best case, what would the worst case be? And a defense without our Manni up front was very hard to imagine. To make a long story short- he was back on the pitch only seven days later. After that, someone in the discussion board was convinced: someday, we will read the following headline: " Cruciate ligament rupture- two weeks break for Sven Bender!"
Be it a laceration, a shoulder injury or something completely different, it is hard to imagine something that could actually keep our Sven Bender from going on the pitch, playing football and giving it all. Once asked about him by a reporter, Jürgen Klopp answered: Sven will play if he is up to it. The problem is, he always feels up to it."
It is difficult to find a better summary in order to describe Sven Bender's character, but mabye I can tell you about a scene, that will always stick to my head. It was the game against St. Pauli in the second half of the season. And even though St. Pauli turned out to be a relegated team by the end of the season, this does not reduce the frenzy that our Manni presented on the pitch. I remember a scene when he was in a duel with an opposite number and lost the ball. Already a mystery- Manni losing the ball. But even though he was down on the ground and the other player already on the move with the ball, there was nothing that could hold our Bender back. He jumped up, ran after the one with the ball, threw himself into another duel, fell back on the ground, and still from the ground, he was fighting until he finally got the ball back. And just like this wasn't enough already, he even played a perfect pass onto Schmelzer who was running by the side. The mindset that this 22 year old boy brings into the game can't be described with words. You have to watch him in order to believe it.
It is Sebastian Kehl who has been the team captain for a very long time, and everytime he injured himself again, it was a real fall-back for us. But in 2009, Michael Zorc found this young lad somewhere down in the south. In Munich to be more exact, the blue Munich. 1860 Munich. He must have seen something in him that none of us was aware of at that time. Whilst we were still frustruated because of another Sebastian Kehl injury, this young lad silently worked his way up into the first team of our Borussia. By the end of this season, it is hard to think of a Borussia Dortmund without Sven "Manni" Bender in the team. To me, and probably to many others as well, he became irreplaceable.
At the age of 22, hardly any player has fully developed his skills, the same goes for Sven Bender. There is always room for more and his offensive game has not reached its limit yet. He did not play the wonderful passes that Sahin played, but then again, Sahin did not throw himself into the duels like Bender did. To me, Sven Bender was always more of the undercover guy. Who knows if Sahin had been able to play all the wonderful passes, if there hadn't been a Bender to take care of his back. Together, they managed to do great things.
Against Kaiserslautern, he scored his first Bundesliga goal, and even though it was not enough for a victory for us, Nuri Sahin, his partner in crime, would later say "I thought I was never going to see him score". Unfortunately there is always a new path for players to take, and Nuri Sahin chose to leave us by the end of the season in order to go to Real Madrid. And while I neither want to reduce Nuri Sahin's incredible performances to the hard work of his partner Sven Bender, I do not want to reduce Sven Bender's fantastic effort to the performance of Nuri Sahin. Together they were amazing. We will have to see how our "Manni" Bender will continue his way with a new partner at his side next season.
But from all we were able to witness this season, I am incredibly proud to have someone like Sven in our team and I am absolutely convinced that he will continue to grow. What Nuri Sahin described as "mental" is everything we appreciate about Sven.Without any fear he goes into every duel. He never gives up, when the ball got lost, you can almost be 100 percent sure that Sven Bender will get it back. And one of the most outstanding aspects of this is the fact that he is one hell of a fair player. With all the enthusiasm he puts into a duel one could actually expect that it went wrong every now and then. These now's and then's can actually be reduced to "twice"- he only got two yellow cards.
Dear "Manni", thank you for all the effort, the passion, the frenzy and the madness you have shown on the pitch. You truly are a Champion and the only person who could ever make me give up the number 17 on my jersey. My new jersey now has the number 22 on his back. And as far as I am concerned, you are a worthy follower to the number 17. Thank you Sven!