The death of an athlete is incredibly emotional on many levels. Not only are the deceased player’s teammates mourning their comrade’s passing, but the fans of the team are grieving as with the players as well. Beyond the team, fans of the league lament the death of the player, as do people from around the world who call the sport their favorite. This is no more evident than with the recent untimely death of VFL Wolfsburg player Junior Malanda, a 20-year-old Belgian player who was killed in a fatal car accident.
The Bundesliga is the top-flight of German soccer, and the league takes a winter break between December and the end of January. It was during this break that Malanda passed away. On Jan. 10, Malanda was a passenger with two others in a car traveling in Germany when the car left the road and crashed into a tree. Malanda was confirmed dead at the scene. Police say he was not wearing his seat belt.
The reaction was immediate. Soccer fans across the globe poured out their condolences for the young player. Players took to social media to express their grief, including Wolfsburg teammate Kevin De Bruyne and other Belgian national team players. Malanda had no caps for the senior Belgian international team, but he was the captain of the Belgian U-21 team, scoring 2 goals in 15 appearances.
The winter break for the Bundesliga has since ended and Wolfsburg played their first game since Malanda’s death on Friday, Jan. 30 against the top team in the league, Bayern Munich. Despite Wolfsburg currently holding second position in the league, Bayern were largely the favorites in the game. Before kickoff, Wolfsburg organized a tribute for Malanda, in which a banner reading “Fur Immer in Urseren Herzen” (Forever in Our Hearts) was unveiled while fans in the stadium waved flags and held signs with Malanda’s picture and number 19. Everyone in attendance paid tribute with a minute’s applause followed by a minute’s silence. Wolfsburg players and coaching staff were incredibly emotional during the tribute, some nearly on the verge on tears.
In the game, it was evident Malanda was looking down on his teammates, as Wolfsburg took an unlikely lead in the 4th minute thanks to Bas Dost, who then doubled the lead with an incredible volley in first half stoppage time. Wolfsburg kept the pressure on as Kevin De Bruyne struck in 53rd, looking up to the sky after scoring. Bayern tried to get back into the game with a goal from Juan Bernat in the 55th, but Wolfsburg secured the win thanks to a sublime strike from De Bruyne in the 73rd.
Wolfsburg won in stunning fashion, demolishing Bayern and remembering Malanda in the best way possible: winning in memory of him. Wolfsburg will be playing the rest of the season with Malanda on their minds, cheering on his teammates from above, and giving them motivation to continue their success. While the game against Bayern was dedicated to Malanda’s memory, the remainder of the season will undoubtedly be played in his memory as well, not only by Wolfsburg, but by soccer players from all leagues around the world.
RIP Junior. Fur Immer in Urseren Herzen.