Former Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has placed himself in the pantheon of eternal German greats. Originating from humble roots, the Chicago Fire midfielder played a crucial role in guiding his club and country to the pinnacle of the professional game.
We’d become accustomed to witnessing Schweinsteiger masterfully control the tempo of the game in the heart of midfield, but his evolution into one of the greatest central midfielders of his generation was rather complex.
Ottmar Hitzfeld deployed him as a left-back on his first team debut against RC Lens in the UEFA Champions League in November 2002 and he was mainly played as a winger until the appointment of Louis Van Gaal in May 2009.
It was under Louis Van Gaal that Schweinsteiger was given a new lease of life in his preferred position as a central midfielder. Schweinsteiger would also be deployed in the same position for the German National Team and he translated his success at club level onto the international stage by helping them to success in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Although he’s labelled a national legend across Germany, Schweinsteiger is deemed an immortal in the eyes of Bayern Munich supporters. He spent 13 years with The Bavarians’ first team, making 500 appearances and winning 19 major trophies, including the continental treble in 2013.
He’s undisputedly one of the most decorated players in the history of German football, but how did he attain legendary status in Munich and later the whole of Germany and what is the story behind the making of the world champion?
Bastian Schweinsteiger was born in the small Bavarian town of Kolbermoor on 1 August 1984, which is coincidently the same birthplace as 1972 European Championship and 1974 World Cup winner Paul Breitner.
This is made even more remarkable when you discover that Kolbermoor holds approximately 19,000 inhabitants. How did two of the greatest players in German football history hail from such humble surroundings only fate will know, but I’m sure that Breitner’s roots in Kolbermoor acted as a huge inspiration to Schweinsteiger during his childhood.
He would subsequently follow in his footsteps by joining Bayern Munich as an academy product in 1998, but he first had to decide between skiing and football. Schweinsteiger was equally as talented in both sports, but his love for football outweighed his passion for skiing.
Returning to his primitive years, Schweinsteiger was first introduced to competitive football at six years of age when he joined local club FV Oberaudorf. He spent two years with Oberaudorf before moving onto 1860 Rosenheim, who also later contribute to the development of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Julian Weigl.
Bayern Munich scouts paid an interest in the young winger and secured his signature when he was just 14 years old in 1998. Schweinsteiger continued his development with the academy and became a crucial player in two consecutive league titles for the Under-17s and Under-19s in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
Ottmar Hitzfeld was reluctant to hold Schweinsteiger back any longer and gave him his first team debut against French outfit RC Lens in the UEFA Champions League in 2002. Although Schweinsteiger was deployed as a left-back, he was able to make an immediate impact by recording an assist.
He was offered his first professional contract in the December of that year and finished his debut season with two goals in 16 appearances. His reputation skyrocketed when he received his international debut for Germany under Rudi Voller in June 2003, but the club feared that the fame may go to his head when he began making headlines for the wrong reasons.
The young winger was earning a reputation for his talent on the pitch, but whether he was disciplined enough to discover his true potential was another question. Eventually, Schweinsteiger began to mature as an individual and Ottmar Hitzfeld continued to gradually give him more first team opportunities.
Schweinsteiger also featured in the 2004 European Championship, where Germany succumbed to a humiliating group stage exit. Felix Magath initially dropped Schweinsteiger, who was forced to play with the reserves for brief period. But the strict disciplinarian quickly realised his mistake and reinstalled him into the starting line-up.
Bayern Munich’s three domestic doubles during his opening four seasons at the club and Schweinsteiger made an good impression on the international stage by scoring a brace in the third-place play-off against Portugal in Stuttgart.
The Bavarians won another domestic double in 2008 and Schweinsteiger capped off another fantastic year by helping Germany to the 2008 European Championship final. Although Germany narrowly lost to Spain via a winning goal from Fernando Torres, it’d been a strong year for ‘Schweini’, who reached 62 international caps by the age of just 24.
A Spot Amongst the Stars
Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal played a revolutionary role in the evolution of Bastian Schweinsteiger. He’d fared very well as a winger, but Van Gaal acknowledged his exceptional technical ability and footballing intelligence and masterfully converted him into a central midfielder during the 2009/10 season.
It was a magical season at the Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich recovered from a disastrous start to the Bundesliga campaign to regain the league title and sealed a domestic double with Schweinsteiger scoring the final goal in an emphatic 4-0 victory over Werder Bremen at the Olympiastadion.
Bayern Munich fell at the final hurdle to miss out on the opportunity of winning the continental treble. An iconic brace from Argentinian striker Diego Milito wrapped up the victory for Internazionale in the UEFA Champions League final, but good things come to those who wait…
Germany reached the latter stages of a major international tournament once again in the summer of 2010. They were once again defeated by Spain, who recorded another narrow victory through a Carles Puyol header.
The country was beginning to grow frustrated with their inability to deliver in major international competitions. Bastian Schweinsteiger was one individual who was scrutinized heavily for the national team’s issues and their elimination in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 hardly helped matters.
Returning to Bayern, Schweinsteiger was also finding it difficult to replicate his form from the season before under Van Gaal. The Dutchman was sacked before the end of the 2010/11 season and Bayern failed to take home any of the three major trophies available.
Legendary manager Jupp Heynckes took over at the beginning of the 2011/12 season, and although their form improved, Bayern were pipped to the Bundesliga title once again by Borussia Dortmund.
However, they’d fared well in Europe and made it all the way to the UEFA Champions League final, which was coincidently being held on home turf at the Allianz Arena.
Sadly, Schweinsteiger would subsequently miss the final spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out to hand Didier Drogba the perfect chance to crown his departure with the decisive winner.
Chelsea were crowned European champions, but Bayern Munich can now reflect on it as a lesson learnt in hindsight, following their unprecedented success in the 2012/13 season.
Schweinsteiger equalled his record season tally with nine goals in 45 appearances and was voted Footballer of the Year in Germany in 2013. Bayern ended Borussia Dortmund’s dominance by clinching the Bundesliga title by a record 25 points and added further insult to injury by defeating them at the Olympiastadion to win a fiercely contested DFB-Pokal Cup.
As if the rivalry couldn’t get any more intense, Borussia Dortmund had defeated Real Madrid to also reach the 2013 UEFA Champions League final. Bayern Munich had the opportunity to bury the ghost of 2010 and 2012 at Wembley Stadium and Robben sealed an extraordinary treble with a last-gasp winner.
It marked the beginning of an exceptional year for Schweinsteiger. Just one year later, he’d be lifting the World Cup with Germany in the world-famous Maracanã. Germany defeated Algeria and narrowly beat France to reach the semi-finals of the competition, where they met the hosts Brazil.
Their 7-1 victory over Germany was one of those nights where you look back and go, I remember where I was when Germany fired seven past the biggest footballing country in world football.
They met Brazil’s South American rivals Argentina and were forced to extra-time La Albiceleste. Mario Gotze emerged as the hero with an extra-time winner, controlling the ball on his chest, before arrowing an unstoppable volley into the far top corner.
The images of Schweinsteiger kissing the trophy before gazing into the summer sky are enough to make any German football fan cry. Just as he had done at Bayern, Schweinsteiger had proved his doubters wrong to go on and achieve greatness.
When he left Bayern Munich for Manchester United in 2015, only eight players had represented Bayern more times than him in history. He scored 68 goals in 500 appearances for The Reds and won an incredible 8 Bundesliga titles, 7 DFB-Pokal Cups and 1 UEFA Champions League.
His spell at Manchester United had the undesirable effect, although he did win the FA Cup during Louis Van Gaal’s final season at the helm. He’s now plying his trade in the MLS with Chicago Fire and is once again enjoying his football.
After many difficult steps to reach prosperity, Schweinsteiger displayed extreme resilience and dedication to become one of the greatest German players in history. He’ll be forever remembered by those who witnessed his true brilliance both for Bayern Munich and Germany, and he rightfully deserves his place amongst German Royalty!
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