For 13 years, Sven Elsinger was the man to run on the pitch when the Werkself player got injured. Now the head physiotherapist at Bayer 04 is leaving. We pay tribute to a man who has set standards at the club – and who always liked to remain in the background.
Michael Ballack could have chosen lots of people. At FC Bayern, Chelsea or Germany, the world class player worked with some outstanding physios. But when it was a question of who would look after the players from the bench for his farewell match in Leipzig in 2013, he chose Sven Elsinger.
It's one of those stories that Sven probably would not like to tell himself. The long-standing head physio at Bayer 04 is much too modest for that. When he talks about how he was given a farewell on the pitch in the last home game against Union Berlin together with Lars and Sven Bender, he only talks about "the two of them wishing they could have had a bit of a crowd." Those two and not him.
"It's always best if you don't actually notice the physiotherapist," said Sven. "It was always my philosophy to work unseen in the background." And yet, he really would have deserved rapturous applause from the North Stand on that matchday 33.
He was head of the physiotherapy department at Bayer 04 for 13 years, for 13 years he was responsible for looking after the senior squad, and for 13 years he was the first person to run on the pitch when the Werkself players got injured. He covered 500 matches during this time and only missed five. Whether it's Arturo Vidal, Heung-min Son, Kai Havertz or the previously mentioned Michael Ballack – all have been on Sven's treatment bench. He looked after players like Simon Rolfes, Stefan Kießling and Lars Bender for a significant part of their careers. If there is a twitch in the calf, or tight muscles then the first contact for all of them was Sven Elsinger.
He joined Bayer 04 in the summer of 2008 after having worked for the DFB for 16 years looking after Germany junior teams and he took part in ten World and European Championships. His signing was an absolute lucky find for the club. A calm anchor who remained cool and collected even if all the players were going wild around him.
Looking after players on the pitch or massage table was only a small part of Sven's valuable work at Bayer 04. He ensured that injured players were fit for full team training after rehab measures at the Werkstatt, treated minor injuries and was in close contact with the head coach every day. And it did not matter whether that was Jupp Heynckes, Roger Schmidt or Peter Bosz – all relied on his expertise. "I'm very grateful," said Sven, "that the coaches always had confidence in me."
That was also logical. Sven, also has a coaching badge, is an absolute expert in his field. Hardly anybody knows more about football injuries than he does. How you treat them but also – an enormously important part of his work – how you prevent them. Prevention therapy is one of his fields of expertise and Sven was the driving force behind establishing that at the club.
"He introduced modern physiotherapy here with us," said Dr Karl-Heinrich Dittmar, head team doctor and medical director at Bayer 04. Sven's arrival in 2008 saw a sea change in the medical department and he was "essentially involved" in setting up the new department that sets standards up to this day as Dr Dittmar reports.
The man from Hessen set standards and not just in his work with the players but also in the training of young physiotherapists. "There were physios," said Dr Dittmar, "who didn't necessarily join us because we were Bayer 04 and a big name but rather because they wanted to learn something from Sven." In the branch of sports physiotherapy, Sven Elsinger is a name that most people know in Germany. Again and again he received offers from other clubs – but Sven always remained loyal to Bayer 04.
"I was able to do my dream job 13 years," he says himself. "I'll never forget it." Especially, of course, the big highlights. The two DFB Cup finals in Berlin and, above all, the Champions League games with Bayer 04. "When you hear the anthem in the big and familiar stadiums, which you know from television, and you’re there yourself then it is really impressive," enthused Sven.
But he also thinks back to the many small highlights. Of players who have been restored to the team after long injury lay-offs with a lot of hard work. "When the player is back on the pitch," said Sven, "that makes the work fun."
Those are moments he will miss as Sven says himself. But there are good reasons for his departure after 13 years. Around 200 to be exact. Because that's how many kilometres he has to travel several times a week to get to Leverkusen. Sven comes from Groß-Gerau near Frankfurt. There, back home, he runs a physiotherapy practice with his wife. During his time at Bayer 04 he always had two jobs – and two places of residence. Sometimes he slept in Leverkusen, but sometimes he was on the Autobahn at five in the morning and back again on the same evening. Add on the many away games in Germany and Europe – Sven had to make a lot of sacrifices for the dream job at Bayer 04.
Sven's contract at Bayer 04 ends officially on 30 June – but you never leave completely. He will continue to support the club in an advisory function and his legacy will be continued: His successor Fritz Gard is one of the many physiotherapists who Sven brought onto the staff at Bayer 04 and helped to develop. Gard moved on to Zürich and Hoffenheim but now returns to Leverkusen – somebody from the Elsinger stable.
For Sven it's now a case of moving from the stable to the barn. Near to his old practice in the Groß-Gerau district of Dornheim, he has converted a farm into a physiotherapy and training centre in recent months, described by Dr Dittmar as "tremendous". "It's first rate and we can get one or two ideas for future planning here at Bayer 04."
The centre is called ‘Elsinger’s Scheune’ (Elsinger's barn) And Sven can now pay more attention to it. And if it does get boring for him then there is another idea for the future. "I've experienced so much in my time at Bayer 04," said Sven, "that I could write books about it." We'd read them.