When the players and the travelling staff in the dining room of the Ovis Hotel in Kharkiv were introduced to Dr. Bangert on the eve of their first Youth League match, they were told jokingly: "This man is here for a three-day holiday." The 39-year-old reacted to the quip with a smile. He knew how it was intended. UEFA requires that there is always a doctor on duty with every team participating in the Youth League. And if all the players are healthy and injury-free, then he – fortunately – doesn't have much to do.
In Hoffenheim, the doctor is a familiar face. He previously worked within the TSG academy between 2012 and 2015, but since 2016 he has been the team doctor for the U23s and a regular fixture in the dugout for Bundesliga games involving the first team. In April 2019, for example, he was on the bench for the Youth League fixtures against Dynamo Kiev, Real Madrid and Porto, as well as the U23 games against SSV Ulm and FC-Astoria Walldorf and the first-team clashes with Hertha Berlin and VfL Wolfsburg.
Born in Ludwigsburg and raised in Stuttgart, Bangert studied medicine in Heidelberg between 2001 and 2007 before undergoing training in clinics in Hamburg and Hanover. He returned to the Heidelberg University Hospital, where his wife works as an anaesthetist, in 2011. He specialises in orthopaedics and trauma surgery, and since this year he has specialised in physical medicine and rehabilitation too. For around five years, he has been working in the field of sports orthopaedics at the Clinic for Orthopaedics and Trauma Surgery, where has been the senior physician for a little over a month – since 1 June 2019. In addition, he is the head orthopaedist at the Rhein-Neckar Olympic Training Centre.
Decisions need to be made quickly
"You don't need to be a football expert, but you do need to have a certain level of enthusiasm for the game. Otherwise the Youth League away trips, which last several days, would not be doable for me on top of my daily work in the clinic and my duties with the U23s and senior team," explained the father of two, who conducts between 10 and 12 operations per week at the hospital. Otherwise, his time is taken up by patient appointments. And by TSG too of course! Dr. Bangert is at the training centre in Zuzenhausen every Tuesday, in addition to his duties at the weekends. The fact that his employer, Heidelberg University Hospital, allows him to do so must not be taken for granted.
"On the one hand it's a great combination, but the disadvantage is the fact that you need to be reachable more or less all the time – both by telephone and in person." As was the case in Nyon the night before the semi-final against Porto, when there was a knock on his hotel room door at 23:00 and he had to use a needle to relieve a haematoma under the nail of a big toe. "But that is all outweighed by how much I enjoy the variety of my professional responsibilities, otherwise I simply wouldn't do it all."
Much of his job is routine stuff. But not all of it is. And when the pressure's on, quick and sometimes unpleasant decisions need to be taken – as was the case during the home game against Dynamo Kiev when Hoffenheim forward Enes Tubluk felt severe pain in his knee following a collision. Dr. Bangert hurried onto the pitch, inspected the knee and initially allowed Tubluk to try to continue. "But following another clinical examination in the half-time interval, it became clear that he couldn't continue under any circumstances," the doctor explained. "It's not always easy, because the lads tend to believe that it'll somehow be okay, and such decisions can obviously also bring about far-reaching consequences for the coaching staff." In this case, however, it was very much the correct call. An MRI scan subsequently revealed that the player had torn his lateral ligament.
"Head injuries are critical," explained Dr. Bangert. "If there's any doubt, it's always better to bring a player off. In such situations, I consider myself to be more of a doctor than a Hoffenheimer." Even though there is a good chance the injury could turn out to be harmless. "When it comes to rapid diagnoses, we team doctors are usually in the spotlight and there is certainly friction at times. But all in all, I have a very open and good relationship with the coaches." That also applies to the full-time physiotherapists, who act as a liaison on a daily basis when Dr. Bangert cannot be there.
For the 39-year-old, the opinion of the physiotherapists is very important. But the decision as to whether a player can be selected or whether they need to be operated lies with the doctor. While his recommendation to go under the knife is not binding – in part because other people such as family members or advisors have an influence on the players too – the lads usually tend to listen to his advice. The operations are then carried out by specialists.
Another big moment in the Youth League campaign came when U23 player Alfons Amade complained of back pain in the run-up to the quarter-final clash with Real Madrid. Every player obviously wants to face Real Madrid, one of the most famous names in the world. And coach Marcel Rapp would have very much liked to field the youth international, so every measure was taken to get him fit. "Alfi warmed up, but it wasn't happening. The issue is that the lad's name is already on the team sheet and can't simply be taken off. As this would give the green light for everyone to make tactical tweaks shortly before kick-off." As a result, in this particular case, Dr. Bangert had to provide a last-minute medical certificate.
"All in all, I actually had little to do during my Youth League duties," explained Dr. Bangert as he reflected with a smile on his "holiday role" throughout the European competition. "It was a brilliant experience to be in such close contact with the team, which included travelling and eating meals together and joining the staff for their morning runs."
Incidentally, he advised Tubluk against an operation following the MRI. The forward received a splint and recently finished his rehabilitation with Bernd Steinhoff, the medical coordinator at the TSG academy. Next season, when Tubluk moves up to the U23 set-up, he and Dr. Bangert will come into contact again. And he won't need any introduction to the doctor this time.