What happens next for Bayern’s Bastian Schweinsteiger?
As Bayern’s championship celebrations went on around him, Bastian Schweinsteiger was remarkably restrained
As Bayern’s championship celebrations went on around him, Bastian Schweinsteiger was remarkably restrained, the midfielder strolling around the pitch when the pantomime of drink-showers and festivities was in full-flow.
Schweinsteiger’s 500th appearance in Bayern colors was acknowledged before kick-off - a point normally reserved for departing players on the last day of the season - while fans chanted ‘fussballgott’ from the stands as he scored the second goal in a 2-0 win over Mainz.
When the question surfaced about his future from a Sky reporter, he chuckled and said he wouldn’t comment on speculation linking him to Manchester United - reports this week have said the Red Devils are likely to make an approach for the player.
He was then, rather awkwardly, interviewed by a well-known athlete, with whom he debated about who was the one worthy of legendary status. But something was discernibly ebbing away in his mind.
The lure of Louis
What makes the Manchester United connection plausible is the presence of Louis van Gaal, the midfielder’s former coach at Bayern Munich. In fact, Schweinsteiger was a public supporter of the Dutchman even before he got his feet under the desk at Säbener strasse, the club’s training ground.
Between 2009 and 2011, Van Gaal reinvigorated Schweinsteiger’s career. As his development plateaued, the move from left-winger to central midfielder led to an upward trajectory in the years to come. He was placed in the more-offensive position of the two defensive-midfielders, allowing Mark van Bommel to offer a steady shield to the back-four.
While Schweinsteiger insists he has ‘three or four years’ at the highest-level, the fact he has missed a worrying amount of football since 2013 with ankle problems would make his foresight unlikelyRoss Dunbar
“He did not fit in the position of left-winger for me,” Van Gaal reflected in an interview with FIFA.com. “When I arrive at a new club, I talk with every player about his position, his personality, the team and how he works with his team-mates. I told Bastian: ‘I think you have to play in the midfield.’
“At that time, we played with two holding midfielders and a No10, which was [Thomas] Müller. Then he played in a holding role and found he liked the game more than ever. Now he's playing at No6 with [Pep] Guardiola [as manager].”
In the eyes of Van Gaal, Schweinsteiger possessed all the necessary qualities - good passing range, aggression, leadership - to be one of the principal figures in the Bayern engine room, just as Steffen Effenberg and others had been before him.
But the added dimension of Schweinsteiger’s ability to dribble with the ball, carry it through the center of the pitch and resist any high-pressing opponents was also attractive. Bayern were German champions, Cup winners and Champions League finalists in his first season as a midfielder with another European final to follow, two years later.
Even when the dressing room was divided in Van Gaal’s final year, the 30-year-old remained firmly behind his coach - those turning against the coach included some of his current team-mates.
Striking gold before it’s too late
Avoiding the hysteria of speculation for one second, perhaps the midfielder needs the same renaissance in his career as he moves into his thirties. While Schweinsteiger insists he has ‘three or four years’ at the highest-level, the fact he has missed a worrying amount of football since 2013 with ankle problems would make his foresight unlikely.
Injury problems have plagued Schweinsteiger’s recent career - the midfielder has been injured for 215 days (according to transfermarkt.de) in the past two years. He has missed 22 games this season with ankle and knee troubles.
Yet, that’s precisely what has defined Schweinsteiger’s obdurate contribution to football: he has an unbending determination to win and achieve success even when the odds are stacked against him.
He managed to power through ankle problems to help Bayern win a complete treble - league, Cup and Champions League - in 2013 but he paid the price in the months ahead, undergoing surgery in June and November on his right-ankle. Last year, he was kept out of action for three months due to tendon problems in his left-knee.
But perhaps he is now paying the ultimate price with the wear-and-tear of several intensive seasons taking its toll - which makes a turnaround his physical condition all the more important.
Schweinsteiger is under contract until June 2016 - the chances are that the midfielder would like to play in Major League Soccer at some point, but the lure of the English Premier League has tugged away at the 30-year-old for several years.
With Bayern planning a rebuild in the near future, a move that may see him forced on to the periphery if he stays on the treatment table then taking the decision 12 months before the end of his contract would even make sense from the club’s perspective.
It might never come to fruition, but maybe now is the time for Schweinsteiger to make his mark in English football with his best years drawing to a close.