As the ace midfielder turns 32 Khel Now reflects on a glittering career for club and country following his retirement from international duty..
The phrase Blood Sweat and Tears is commonly used in conjunction with someone who has served in a position with utmost dedication and discipline through highs and lows. In football, there are many names that spring to mind that can be used freely alongside this phrase. Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger is one of those names. Any football fan would acknowledge that Basti or Schweini as he is fondly called, is one of the greatest servants of the Beautiful Game.
Such was his talent that Rudi Voller, who guided Germany to the Final of the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, picked the young Basti in an otherwise ageing squad in the ill-fated Euro 2004 campaign. Basti was already a rising talent in the Bayern Munich ranks with manager Felix Magath regularly playing the Bavarian in a wide midfield role. With explosive pace and a thunderous right foot, Schweinsteiger was seen as the natural heir to the experienced Bernd Schneider who had made the wide midfield position his own for Die Mannschaft.
The change in management brought out the best in the young German with Jurgen Klinsmann and most importantly Joachim Low, setting out to change the perception of German football. During the 2006 World Cup, a young, vibrant and attack-minded Germany stole the nation’s hearts and Schweinsteiger capped off a brilliant tournament with two world class goals in the 3rd place match against Portugal.
While much has been made of Low and Klinsmann shaping Basti’s career, it was arguably Dutchman Louis van Gaal, who shifted Schweinsteiger to a central midfield role due to his superior ball playing skills that upped the Bavarian’s game to the next level. With the retirement of talisman Michael Ballack, Basti formed solid midfield partnerships with the likes of Luiz Gustavo, Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos at Bayern and with Sami Khedira at national level. His composure, leadership skills and tenacity saw Bayern win league titles, European glory and his crowning moment of lifting the World Cup at Brazil 2014. The sight of the bloodied Schweinsteiger soldiering on during extra time in that Final against Argentina was a testament to the German’s commitment to the team.
Pep Guardiola’s revolution at Bayern took a toll on Schweinsteiger’s body as the ageing warhorse struggled to keep pace with the Catalan’s demand to harry the opposition off the ball. He eventually moved to English giants Manchester United, who then under Louis van Gaal, were excited that the team now had a midfield general who could impose himself on the opposition, something they had lacked since the retirement of the legendary Paul Scholes.
Unfortunately, Basti was restricted to just 13 first-team appearances for the Red Devils due to recurring injuries. The Premier League is a competition that is highly demanding physically and mentally. Basti’s injuries saw the league not able to witness the best of someone who had arrived with a reputation of being a leader and an expert distributor of the ball.
Even at the national level, Joachim Low sought to rid his team of a World Cup hangover as they went into Euro 2016 as one of the favourites for the title. Another continental success would have crowned an era of dominance for the Germans. However, a cautious start to the Euros ended with disappointment in the semifinals against France for Die Mannschaft with Schweinsteiger at the centre of it all as his ill-timed handball handed the French a huge boost prior to half-time.
One cannot fault Van Gaal or Low for taking on an ageing player within their ranks. As he grew older, what Basti lost in pace, he ably made up with his leadership qualities within the team. His ability to drag his teammates to up their performances and giving it his all when putting on a club or national shirt is what endeared him to fans and opponents alike. The footballing world will miss Bastian Schweinsteiger as he moves on from the national side. The team will sorely miss the presence of Der Kapitan, someone who brought the much-renowned German steel, industry and grit to a side that was filled with flair and creativity.
Editorial by Khel Now-Feature Columnist Srinivasan Mohan , Srinivasan Mohan is an ardent football fan from the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and an MBA in Marketing. He has been following football since 2000 and is an ardent Bayern Munich and Chelsea supporter. He has had stints with Goal.com and 90Minutes magazine. Srini as he is commonly know, is someone who loves writing on the Bundesliga and is also fascinated by Serie A. Apart from writing, he spends his time drumming, reading, and working out. You can follow him on Twitter.