Bayern Munich continued their march towards a fifth successive Bundesliga title on Saturday, dispatching #Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 at the Allianz Arena. There were another two goals for Polish goalscoring supremo Robert Lewandowski, as he notched up his century of goals for the Bavarians. However, this is only a side story. In the 65th minute, the visitors' brought Marco #Russ back onto the field of play in the Bundesliga. He was back after 10 months on the sidelines following successful treatment for testicular cancer.
The centre-back was applauded onto the pitch by many of his teammates and opponents and given a huge ovation from all sections of the crowd in Munich. His story is one of courage, determination, and loyalty.
2015/2016 was a miserable campaign for Eintracht Frankfurt. The Eagles were dumped into the relegation play-off spot on the final day of the season, following a dramatic late defeat to Werder Bremen. A few days later, football didn't really matter.
Results from a routine anti-doping test revealed that Marco Russ had high levels of the hormone human chorionic gondadotropin (hCG), which can be caused by either anabolic steroids or #cancer. After doctor consultation, it was confirmed that Russ had a malignant tumour. In spite of this, the club captain insisted he wanted to play on and help his team in their play-off match against Nurnberg. Defeat in the two-legged tie would see Frankfurt relegated to the second-tier of German football for the first time since 2011. In a cruel twist, Russ scored an unfortunate own goal in the first leg of the tie which ended 1-1. As he walked back to the centre circle after this agonising moment, most would have wanted to hug him. It was another shattering moment in a life-changing week.
He was withdrawn from the second leg, which Frankfurt won 1-0 to avoid the drop. Immediately, he began treatment to see if he could now win his biggest battle.
Playing in spirit
Russ has always shown great loyalty to The Eagles. He has practically spent his entire playing career with the club and only left for VfL Wolfsburg in 2011 because top-flight status had been lost. After a difficult 18 months in Wolfsburg, Russ returned to the club that have nurtured, valued and idolised him.
The 31-year-old has been a key part of the Frankfurt team ever since. Often playing as either a centre-back or defensive midfielder, the fans see him as one of their own. In September, loyalty was shown when the club gave Marco a two-year contract extension. By this stage, he had made a public appearance at a pre-season game and vowed to be back stronger than ever. In October, Bayern Munich visited the Commerzbank-Arena and there were some touching scenes with the likes of Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer and Rafinha showing their support for their playing opponent. Days after the 2-2 draw with the champions, Frankfurt Head Coach Niko Kovac confirmed Russ had been given the all-clear by doctors, to the delight of everyone in Germany.
An emotional return
After further rehab in Frankfurt, Russ returned to training in January at the club's winter training camp in Abu Dhabi. Without him, the team were doing amazingly well and sat in the top four positions in the table. A few weeks ago, he made his official comeback, coming on as a late substitute in a DFB-Pokal quarter-final win over Arminia Bielefeld. After the game, he told reporters: "It was a very emotional moment for me after such a long and difficult time."
He was pictured after the game joyfully holding his daughter Vida in his arms. It was a touching moment and a reminder that sometimes, football is a secondary matter. Last week, after 285 days out of the game, Russ was back in the matchday squad for a league game. He was an unused substitute against Sport-Club Freiburg but he made a fitting return to the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Marco Russ' emotional and ultimately, successful battle against cancer will be one of the Bundesliga's most emotional stories of the season.