FC Bayern Munich: The Bastian Schweinsteiger Equation
I found myself complaining to my father last year about something very unusual—Bayern’s extremely good form. At one point winning every game by at least a two goal margin and not conceding any goals was becoming 'boring'.
Debates of whether that Bayern team would outshine each and everyone in the history of German football were starting to rage in Germany and elsewhere, and the facts were in favour of this generation to do exactly that.
While that run did eventually come to an end against Hanover 96 in the Bundesliga, Bayern was still favoured heavily to win the double if not the treble. The Champions League campaign had been running perfectly too, with Bayern having won four out of five games with just one draw in the campaign.
On match-day 4 in the group stages, Bayern came out of the blocks faster than anybody had imagined in Italy or Germany. The Napoli players watched helplessly as one after another Mario Gomez goal registered on the Allianz Arena scoreboard. The midfielders that day, especially Schweinsteiger and Kroos, were just unimaginably brilliant.
And so, another 'boring' day was the only conclusion my mind would come back to—not that I didn’t enjoy the thought of seeing the Italians crushed into bits. Even when Federico Fernandez scored at the end of the first half to reduce the deficit to two, there was in my mind no doubt that this was going to end in one way—shamefully for Napoli and blissfully for Bayern.
In the second half, Bayern seemed relaxed, with the result no longer in doubt and with a highly important match against Borussia Dortmund (only in terms of bragging rights at that point) on the horizon. And suddenly, Gokhan Inler and all of his muscular compact self collided with Schweinsteiger. The midfielder lovingly referred to by Bayern and Bundesliga fans as Schweini collapsed.
And he did not rise.
The stretcher came out. That was the moment that the members of the great Bayern teams of the 70s, 90s and early 2000s breathed a sigh of relief. Their records were intact. Schweini was out for three months. Bayern just about held on without him. They no longer had the look of a side ready to dominate all.
The Bavarians went through a torrid time between January and March. Their hero returned in January, but he was only half the player that he was when he had last stepped onto the pitch. It didn’t take long for another injury to take control of him. He was gone again before too long.
With Kroos’ return to form and with the help of Arjen Robben, Luiz Gustavo and the highly consistent Franck Ribery, Bayern rose again and started dominating matches. Bastian returned once more as the semifinals of the Champions League and the last third of the Bundesliga season took centre-stage. Some suspected that the Bayern hierarchy was hiding something as Basti just didn’t reach his original form of the first six months of the campaign.
And then, in the Champions League final, he hurt his calf in the opening minutes. That match physically and emotionally scarred him like never before. Very few take defeat as hurtfully as Schweinsteiger. The Euros scarred him further but Joachim Loew should have taken better care of him. He had Kroos sitting right in front of him but played a half-fit Bastian ahead of a clearly fully-fit and battle-hardened Toni.
And finally, everyone thought Bayern was this season finally going to say ‘no’ to him—he would return on Jupp Heynckes’ terms, not his own. Bastian returned against Bremen and clearly looked out of tune. That showed he requires match practice. He turned his ankle the following day and left the pitch following 19 minutes of action.
Heynckes called the substitution a ‘precaution’ but everybody watching the match knew Schweini would require more rest. So, finally, it is about time that Bayern stop listening to Schweinsteiger. He always wants to play. He is the image of a heroic footballer, a ‘warrior’ of German football.
Bayern has had players before whose careers have been cut short by injuries, Willy Sagnol being the most recent case. Perhaps Schweinsteiger requires prolonged rest against his wishes. He has been returning too quickly. A team like Bayern might have the players to deal with his absence. Kroos, Emre Can and Gustavo immediately spring to mind as does Tymoshchuk.
Gustavo has other responsibilities to adhere to due to the left-back crisis thanks to countless injuries. However, Kroos has already proven his ability in defensive midfield and Can has shown in preseason and in the youth teams that he has the talent and the discipline required to control midfield.
Make no mistake about this—Schweinsteiger was on his way to becoming the best midfielder in the world last year. He is the only one who can dare be compared to the Spanish duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and arguably, he was the better of the three last year at his peak.
Recently, the famous football site goal.com published their top 50 players of the previous season. They carried out a poll to determine who the fans felt should have been included. Schweinsteiger received the highest number of votes. That is more than decent appreciation for a player who played for a total of only six months rather than a full 11 months.
At this point, I think many fans feel that Schweinsteiger’s career is at serious risk. He has never before suffered a long-term injury. All those small niggling injuries following the big one concerning the collar bone must feel to him to be a long one. Schweinsteiger, as Heynckes himself suggested, perhaps requires rebuilding. And the last thing a player suffering from his problems requires is a quick comeback.
Everybody by now knows that the best Bayern is the one with a fully fit Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Bayern might need him, but the need isn’t too great with the talent at their disposal. To conquer all, though, Bayern will eventually need him.
For now, Bastian shouldn’t be part of the immediate picture. He deserves rest for all that he has been through. He is only human.
I will admit one thing. Nowadays I find myself dreaming about the 'boring' Bayern of last year. I would like to see a perfect Bayern, the one that was supposed to smash all records and be the best Bayern there is, return.
And that can only happen when the Bastian Schweinsteiger of old, fully repaired, returns.
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