BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER: A FUβBALLGOTT AMONGST MEN
“There’s a long way [to the top]” was coach Ottmar Hitzfeld’s understated reply when asked about the 18-year old who he had just handed his first team bow. A teenaged Bastian Schweinsteiger had earned his debut cap for Bayern Munich against R. C. Lens, under the lights, in one of those glorious Champions League nights. A first of many.
After having his plane land in Manchester and Chicago, Schweinsteiger pulled on his celebrated No. 31 shirt for Bayern Munich, the club where he went from man to messiah against current club Chicago Fire in a testimonial for the German legend. Amassing a personal medal haul that could rival almost anyone’s in the game, the 35-year-old Bayern Hall of Famer hung up his illustrious boots on Tuesday afternoon with a heavy heart.
“Saying goodbye as an active player makes me feel a little nostalgic,” he said as his penned his goodbye message to his extended family of fans via social media.
After the night against the French side in 2002, there was no stopping the teenage sensation. The midfield dynamo was rarely absent from ‘General’ Hitzfeld’s side. His pinpoint passing and his versatility on the pitch aided him in becoming a crucial part of the first team. In over 16 appearances in his debut season, Schweini had already secured a domestic double with his side. The world of football was in for something special, and the Bavarians were quick to notice.
Born in 1984, Bastian Schweinsteiger came through the ranks of Bayern’s youth system. Bastian was rebellious when he was young, an attribute that fans enjoyed every now and then on the pitch. But, a young Schweinsteiger did not have his eyes set on the lush green 100-yard surface of football, but on the icy mountains from where he’d ski race his now famous mate and professional ski racer, Felix Neureuther. The German joined the famous reds of Munich in 1998, aged fourteen and there was no looking back after that.
But the Schweinsteiger the world has known for the best part of a decade is far from the one who burst onto the scene in 2002 with his dyed blond hair and fiery persona.
The top central midfielder that we know and cherish now was a permanent resident on the wings before Louis Van Gaal saw a different role for the prodigy and moved him into the centre, and to brilliant effect. In the 2009/10 season, Bayern won the Bundesliga ahead of Schalke, the DFB-Pokal against Werder Bremen and were on their way to a famous treble until Mourinho’s famous Inter Milan crashed their dreams in the final of the Champions League. Schweinsteiger featured in all but 4 of the club’s 53 fixtures which led to a triumphant domestic double. The German giants had found their midfield rock.
As a club, Bayern take immense pride in the promotion of those that are one of their own. Schweinsteiger was afforded one of the highest honors for a Die Roten (The Reds) player in April 2008 when he was given the captain’s armband for the first time, even if only briefly, a massive deal for the local lad. With his increasingly dominant displays on the pitch, the Bayern loyalty crowned him as their Fußballgott (Football God). The Allianz Arena faithful had good cause to christen an absolute marvel on the pitch.
With such sublime performances at club level, the coaches at Die Mannschaft were bound to notice. Schweinsteiger was handed his first experience in the colors of Germany in 2004, just months after his stint for the U-21 national side. A decade after, he’d go on and lift the World cup on the famous night at the Maracanã
Hitzfeld rightly emphasized the role played by Basti in the nation’s first World Cup triumph since 1990.
“The part he played in winning the World Cup was incredibly big. You can’t overestimate his performance at all.”
While Mario Götze may have grabbed all the headlines for his cinematic late winner, it was the iconic sight of Schweinsteiger with blood pouring down his face after a clash with Sergio Aguero that was indicative of everything right about that German setup
Schweinsteiger bagged 121 caps for the 4-time world champions, making him the fourth most capped German, captaining them in the Euros after Phillip Lahm decided to bid adieu to international football. But on 31 August 2016 and having just turned 32, Schweinsteiger too said his goodbyes to the national team, in a game hosted at the Borussia-Park on what turned out to be a very emotional night.
Amidst all the glories came a year of terrifying anguish for all of Bayern Munich and especially Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 2011/12 season had the toughest test in store for Schweinsteiger as he suffered a fractured collarbone and torn ankle ligaments, adding to his frustration after failing to win both the domestic honors at the hands of rivals, Borussia Dortmund. But the big blow came on the night of the Champions League final. “Finale dahoam” (home final) as it was dubbed then, Bayern were to play English side Chelsea in their own stadium.
Schweinsteiger was a hero coming into the final at the Allianz Arena, having put a dagger through Madridsta hearts after scoring a winning penalty against the Spanish side. That wasn’t the case on the 19th of May 2012 in what was undeniably a dark day for FC Hollywood.
When Petr Cech saved Schweinsteiger’s penalty and the hosts’ fifth, onto the post, handing Chelsea the advantage which Didier Drogba promptly accepted and converted, a million Bavarian hearts were shattered.
Schweinsteiger took the defeat in his stride and decided to bounce back and boy did he return on that self-made promise. At their lowest ebb at the end of 2011/12, Schweinsteiger and Bayern fought back to conquer all comers in 2012/13, showing remarkable character throughout a glorious treble-wining campaign.
The German international played a staggering 45 games for his side which saw Bayern Munich become the first German team to conquer the treble. Schweinsteiger was lionized for his contributions and to top it all, he was named as Germany’s footballer of the year in 2013. Schweini joined the pantheon of Bayern Munich greats, having donned the famed red shirt 342 times, scoring 45 times and assisting 70 times in the German league.
In Pep Guardiola’s stint at Bayern, Schweinsteiger put up terrific numbers in just about all departments; completed passes, where he averaged a whooping 85 passes per game, 89.9% of which reached a teammate and an astonishing average of 1.7 tackles per game in the Catalan’s side saw his cement his place in the Spaniard’s side. What he lacked in pace, he certainly made up with his unparalleled ability to read the proceedings and get into just the right pockets of space. When on a roll, Schweinsteiger was the perfect midfielder for any side.
After ruling the roost at the Allianz Arena, Manchester United came calling. Basti decided to join his former boss Louis Van Gaal, who was keen to reignite his magic after a brilliant World Cup campaign with the Netherlands. Instantly accepted and celebrated, Schweinsteiger became one of Manchester’s own, emerging victorious in three finals, adding 3 more medals to his tally. In his rather short 18-month spell in the red side of Manchester, the veteran had become a popular and respected figure among the fans.
Having endured the freezing cold of Munich and the incessant rains of Manchester, Schweinsteiger was ready for a new challenge in Chicago. The former Bayern legend took no time to settle into his new surroundings as he fired his side into the MLS Playoffs for the first time in 5 years. His reward would be to captain the 2017 MLS All-Stars against Real Madrid in 2017, continuing his pattern of being deemed as a leader of men. Chicago Fire would have a player in the all-star XI for two times running as Schweini put on quite a show in the States.
But all in all, Bastian’s human touch was as good as his first touch, better even. His touching to referee Babak Rafati after he tried to end his life before a match between Mainz and Köln, was proof of him being a human being of the highest quality.
“Mr. Rafati, people often make mistakes in life, but we simply have to come back even more often. I wish you all the best.”, read the inspirational Schweinsteiger’s heartwarming piece of advice.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, the blonde German kissing the world cup will always be our fondest memory of the midfield marvel. With teary eyes and a heart full of memories, the beautiful game bids farewell to the one and only Schweini. They just don’t make them like him anymore.