Timo Hildbrand makes surprise return to the Bundesliga

Former Schalke 04 goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand was picked up this week in a surprise move by Eintracht Frankfurt. SGE will be without the services of their number 1, Kevin Trapp, who will be out for several months after seriously injuring his ankle in the game against Mainz 05 on Tuesday. Trapp was to undergo surgery Thursday in Frankfurt.

Hildebrand had been between teams since Schalke 04 did not renew his contract at the end of the 2013-2014 season. The former German national goalkeeper had most recently been spotted training with the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer, briefly spurring rumors that Hildebrand might be moving to the U. S. league.

Hildebrand began his professional career at VfB Stuttgart in 1999 where he was one of “Stuttgart’s young wild ones” who took the team to Bundesliga runners-up in 2003 and then eventually the Bundesliga title in 2007. It was at Stuttgart that Hildebrand set the Bundesliga record for keeping a clean sheet for 884 consecutive minutes in 2003-2004. Hildebrand would also spend six years with various German national teams during these peak times, winning seven caps for Germany.

After winning the league title, Hildebrand did not accept Stuttgart’s offer to extend his contract and moved on to the Spanish club Valencia where he served as the club’s number one for most of the 2007-2008, winning a Copa Del Rey that season, before a coaching change left him out of favor at the Spanish club.

The next few years would find Hildebrand bouncing from Hoffenheim to Portuguese side Sporting CP, and even a brief trial with Manchester City. Hildebrand returned full time to the Bundesliga when he was signed by Schalke 04 in the fall of 2011 to stand in for the injured Ralf Fährmann.

Hildebrand’s time at Schalke would be a rollercoaster and that ride ended in November 2013. He kept his 100th Bundesliga clean sheet on Nov. 3, only to make the blunder-seen-round-the-world four days later on Nov. 7. During a Champions League match against Chelsea, Hildebrand appeared to zone out during a ball clearance, allowing Samuel Et’o to steal the ball and play it in for a goal. The error stunned the Schalke squad who went on to lose that game 3-0. Perhaps in an effort to separate himself from that blunder, Hildebrand donated the kit he wore that game and raised over 1,400 Euros for charity.

However, the blunder continued to haunt Hildebrand, and Schalke had a run of bad form that made it appear the 2013-2014 season would not end well for Die Knappen. However, Fährmann was soon well enough to return between the posts, and Schalke rebounded for the best second half in club history. Once again, Hildebrand had lost favor at a club. Schalke 04 did not offer to extend his contract at the end of that 2013-2014 season.

Some fans may have thought that this was the end for Hildebrand, as he appeared to be preparing for a life outside football. In the spring of 2014, Hildebrand released a children’s book, titled ‘Noja,’ and announced his partnership with a vegan supermarket chain. However, this week’s announcement by Frankfurt seems to show that the Hildebrand still has a place in the Bundesliga.

Hildebrand will serve as Frankfurt’s backup keeper, as 24-year-old Felix Wiedwald will step up to be Frankfurt’s new number one.

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Jody Strauch teaches mass media at Northwest Missouri State University. She's fairly new to Bundesliga but has been a rabid fan since the 2006 World Cup. You can follow her on Twitter @jodelld. She tweets FC Schalke 04, FC Fulham, and Sporting Kansas City.

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