Michael Esser has returned to Hannover 96 just six months after leaving to join Hoffenheim.
His return is the latest episode in the soap opera surrounding their goalkeeping team over the past year, with the club making clear he returns as the number one goalkeeper, ahead of Ron-Robert Zieler.
Esser, who originally joined from Darmstadt in 2017, had been one of the better players in the relegation from the Bundesliga however Mirko Slomka and Jan Schlaudraff opted to bring back Zieler for a second spell at the club last summer.
That left Esser in a reserve role and out of gratitude for his previous service he was eventually allowed to leave, for free, to join Hoffenheim in January, although he was only third choice there behind Oliver Baumann and Philipp Pentke.
Meanwhile, Zieler had an unconvincing season in Hannover’s goal and current coach Kenan Kocak decided that he needed a new goalkeeper if they are to challenge for promotion next season. With Esser only on a short-term deal with Hoffenheim, he was able to make a return, with the club’s tail firmly between their legs.
Kocak confirmed in the club’s announcement that he “wasn’t happy” about Esser’s original departure, however he feels he is “the type of player we need” and “he has proven his qualities and his safe and calm appearance.”
Sporting director Gerhard Zuber said that he and and Kocak had agreeed “after an objective analysis” that a change was needed, with Zieler “informed about our decision in advance.”
“I am happy to be here again. It feels a little bit like I haven’t been away,” said Esser himself, and added the “the people currently in place had nothing to do” with his demotion in the team. He believes Zuber and Kocak “have a plan that they are pursuing vigorously,” which is why he opted for Hannover over other interested clubs.
His return to usurp Zieler leaves the 2014 World Cup winner in a precarious situation, especially with reports suggesting he is determined to remain in Hannover, where he is very happy. He also became a father last week. He has been linked with Union Berlin but with a sizeable contract that has two years left to run, he could prove difficult to dispose of.
The club also have Martin Hansen, signed to replace Esser in January, and Michael Ratajczak, signed when Hansen suffered a serious injury days after arriving. Youngster Leo Weinkauf is also in the middle of a loan spell with Duisburg in the 3. Liga.
The goalkeeping situation at the club is clearly very messy, a symptom of numerous coaching and managerial changes in the past 18 months. For now though, Kocak has his man.
Header image source: Hannover 96.