Perhaps, like me, you are nervous about Marco Reus passing these final days injury-free before the World Cup starts. I half-imagine Reus turning an ankle on an escalator, twisting a knee during some light training, breaking a toe on a stubborn door jam, or blowing a hammie while swimming in the hotel pool (does Reus swim? Yes?). The scenarios seem endless. Basically, anything that will (once again!) keep the 29 year old from playing in his first World Cup.
Reus has single-handedly resurrected paranoid feelings of superstition in me, or a sense of dread—that the soccer gods, like their ancient Greek relatives, who dwell on soccer Olympus have permanently cursed Reus’s bodily health. To date, despite being one of Germany’s very best players for about 6-7 years, Reus has only played in one international tournament, the 2012 Euros, in which he only played a bit role. 11Freunde‘s chief man, Christoph Biermann, covers the whole sad story in a piece for The Guardian. Biermann reminds us that Reus has only played 30 times for Die Nationalmannschaft and has one won a single career trophy (the 2017 DFB Pokal). Biermann underscores the unfortunate series of events compromising Reus’s career by quoting Jogi Löw’s assessment of Reus’s missed time as a “personal tragedy.”
Given Reus’s long history of injuries, it’s no wonder that I find these final days before the tournament begins so nerve-wracking. I half-expect the soccer gods to strike again with something like one of the scenarios I mentioned above. I admit it. I half-expect to see an all-caps Bild headline with a grainy image of Reus’s pained face to pop up any hour now.
(Perhaps I’m even praying my rosary with intentions for Reus—you’ll never know.)
On Transfermarkt.com, Reus’s injury list is three pages long—a skeleton of a narrative about interruption, missed opportunities, and a testimony to the sports cliche “injury-prone.” The pattern is so established that, as a Borussia Dortmund supporter, I go through stages of forgetting that Reus exists then sentimentally clinging to every glimpse of him cutting sharp runs through the final third. Speaking of cliches, Reus has taught me many like “cherish every moment,” “appreciate the time you have,” or even cruelly “what will be will be.” Reus has also inspired me to invent my own cliches: “injuries are a blessing in disguise,” “absence makes the football fan grow fonder of Marco Reus,” or riffing off an old one about saving pennies, “a Reus saved (by injury) today is another transfer out of BVB that won’t happen (tomorrow).” I know, this last one is awful.
Through this series of unfortunate events, Marco Reus has become my absolutely favorite football player in the world. The reasons are varied, but one reason is shot through with irony: Marco Reus has stayed at Dortmund all these years. Aside from Thomas Müller perhaps, he’s as close as you can get to the fabled “one man, one club” paragons of the past; you know, your Stevie Gs, your Francesco Tottis. Technically, Reus isn’t a “one club man,” but let’s apply the Stevie-G-to-L.A.-Galaxy-Rule here and claim that, yes, metaphysically, Reus is a one club man. (Sorry, Gladbach fans! Sorry, Rot Weiss Ahlen!) You can get away with saying this because Reus is from Dortmnnd, grew up loving BVB, and grew up in the BVB youth system. This guy is Dortmund, despite his Bildungsroman-style detours to Ahlen and Mönchengladbach. Like many a young protagonists, the prodigal returned home. It also helps that he was really really good and that his hometown team really really wanted him.
The irony here, of course, is that injuries are probably a major reason why Reus is still a one club man. Without the many injuries in recent seasons, there was surely little chance that Reus would have actually stayed with BVB all these seasons. Honestly. Despite his heart-stirring, warm, and loyal rhetoric about Dortmund, let’s face it: Reus could’ve (and probably would’ve) transferred to Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City, etc. And everybody would’ve understood. Even other BVB loyalists like Sahin and Kagawa pulled this move. Transferring upward just goes with the modern football territory. Nobody would’ve begrudged Reus this move.
But it never happened.
In ironic fashion, injuries killed off interest in Reus every time the winger got our football juices boiling with his consummate technical skill, creativity, speed, and absolute menace in the final third. Remember, at one time, Reus was the Bundesliga’s player of the year. At his best, Reus is a supremely gifted creative force and scorer on the pitch. And in this sense, he’s a significant upgrade over someone like Andre Schürrle on Löw’s World Cup squad. So given his abilities, it’s very difficult to imagine that Reus would have remained at BVB without all those injuries.
Speaking for myself as a BVB partisan, I have mixed feelings about Reus’ injury woes. On the one hand, I feel a sense of loss for missing what Reus could’ve done at the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros. My hunch is that Reus’s brand of attacking menace would’ve played brilliantly during these two tournaments, rocketing him into a die Mannschaft spotlight occupied by Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer. Reus is the sort of attacking midfielder who immediately impacts single matches, let alone a string of 5-6 of them. He’s made for the tight margins of knockout tournament play. On the other hand, I feel a sense of relief because injuries have probably kept Reus at Dortmund for all these seasons during his career peak. This permanence certainly endears Reus to me in a way that’s not possible with BVB’s young starlets, or the even the real prodigal Mario Götze. Reus occupies a unique position in this particular fan’s soul. And I imagine he occupies a similar place for thousands of other BVBers.
This intense love for Reus is what makes the 2018 World Cup so meaningful for me. I can’t wait to see Reus out there on Russian pitches, no matter his role, playing time, or even impact. This effect is heightened when I consider that this World Cup might it for Reus, internationally. It might be his last major international tournament. I hope not, but considering his history with injuries, it’s a likely bet.
So before Germany’s first match kicks off, there’s already an intensity infecting this tournament for me. As the playing careers of elite footballers skew younger and shorter these days, each tournament increasingly carries outsized significance as you watch your favorite players. For Reus, this significance is exponentially increased, given how scarce his international appearances have been. The sense that, until now, we’ve missed the majority of the possible brilliance, creativity, and memories that could’ve been generated by this supremely skilled footballer only deepens the meaning of seeing Reus in this tournament for me. After all, scarcity can be a powerful intensifier.