Klasnic back after kidney transplant

No one at Werder Bremen thought Croatia forward Ivan Klasnic could beat two liver transplants to play professional soccer again.

updated: November 27, 2007 11:59 IST
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No one at Werder Bremen thought Croatia forward Ivan Klasnic could beat two liver transplants to play professional soccer again.

Yet Klasnic was back on the field on Saturday for a Bundesliga game, a lump in his throat as cheers erupted from fans during Bremen's 2-0 win against Energie Cottbus.

It was his first match since December 17, 2006, when his body got too weak.

"It was a dream, I worked toward this day and I enjoyed every minute," Klasnic said. "I made all the doubters shut up. I want to be a role model, show everybody what's possible with willpower."

Bremen had written off Klasnic, who scored 42 goals in 136 Bundesliga games, by not registering him for the Champions League group stage, which rules him out of Wednesday's match against Real Madrid.

His teammates were just as surprised by his return.

"Six months ago, no one expected Ivan to come back," midfielder Tim Borowski said.

The 27-year-old Klasnic played 64 minutes Saturday and had two shots on goal, with many believing his performance showed he still belonged in professional soccer at its highest level.

Considering what he went through, Klasnic called the comeback the easy part. His body rejected a liver from his mother in January, then two months later the second transplant from his father stuck.

"I had a lot of torture and pain in 11 months," Klasnic said. "Playing a game like that is a small problem."

That is as close as Klasnic has come to offering details on his experience.

He is trying to join a handful of professional athletes to have a liver transplant and play again, like NBA star Alonso Mourning and New Zealand rugby union winger Jonah Lomu.

Klasnic is wearing a fiberglass shield to protect his liver, one so strong he said a tank could drive over it. Without the protection, a kick could prove life-threatening.

"An element of risk remains," said Juergen Klempnauer, the doctor who operated on Klasnic. "But all of life is made up of risks."

Klasnic has to take pills morning and night which produce strong side effects to make sure his body doesn't reject his new liver. Once a fast-food lover, the forward has been forced to revise his diet.

But for all the work and pain, Klasnic has already had some sweet moments in his comeback.

Earlier this month, he was thrilled after taking a major step in his comeback and 15,000 fans at Bremen's Weserstadion began to chant "I-van, I-van."

Klasnic played 67 minutes for Bremen's reserves when they beat FC St. Pauli in a penalty shootout to prove he was ready for the Bundesliga.

"As the fans called my name, I could have cried," he said. "I felt a prickling across my whole body as I walked onto the pitch."

Klasnic, who has played 26 games for Croatia, now has to fight for a starting role on Germany's highest-scoring team. Miroslav Klose is gone, but Hugo Almeida and Boubacar Sanogo have scored regularly to fill the gap.

However, management wants more proof that Klasnic's body is ready to play in the Bundesliga.

"We've noticed already that Ivan is impatient," Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf said. "But we have to see how far along he is and what we can expect from him."

Still, Klasnic has already proved most people wrong. Not that anyone at Werder Bremen minds.

"You can always be wrong in life, but we should just be happy that he is playing again," Bremen manager Klaus Allofs said. "I was surprised that he can already play at this level."