Last spring, as Bayern Munich romped past Juventus and Barcelona en route to a Champions League win that would crown a historic treble, Bastian Schweinsteiger was the best midfielder in the world.
His partnership with Javi Martinez was especially vital in blocking off the Xavi-Andres Iniesta passing lane over two legs against the Catalans, and for his efforts in securing Bayern’s 23rd German title he was named the country’s Footballer of the Year for a first time.
But these days Schweinsteiger is having enough trouble finding a place for himself in the Bundesliga giants’ starting 11.
True, his troublesome ankle has limited his first-team opportunities since Pep Guardiola’s arrival as manager during the summer, but even when fit the 29-year-old has struggled to settle into a 4-1-4-1 setup that has seen Bayern dominate their opponents at home and abroad.
Ideally suited to a holding assignment in a 4-2-3-1 formation or variant, Schweinsteiger has split his 10 Bundesliga appearances under Guardiola between the anchor role and a rather more advanced position alongside Toni Kroos.
The differences in his ability to influence play have been startling.
According to ESPN, Schweinsteiger has averaged 117 touches of the ball and 107 passes while operating from deep in midfield, as opposed to 93 touches and 80 passes as part of the foursome behind the centre-forward.
Philipp Lahm, meanwhile, has excelled as Guardiola’s anchor midfielder, and his form—as well as Martinez’s return to fitness following groin and ankle injuries—could make it difficult for Schweinsteiger to regain a starting place, at least in his preferred position.
“Lahm could keep Schweinsteiger out of the Bayern starting XI,” was club icon Franz Beckenbauer’s frank assessment in a recent interview with Bild, as relayed by Goal. “The final decision obviously lies with Pep Guardiola, and it also depends on Schweinsteiger’s fitness.”
Guardiola, for his part, had downplayed rumors of a rift between himself and the Germany international, telling reporters, as per Marca, that there “isn’t any problem” between him and his player.
But, he cryptically added, “Sometimes I need certain players—sometimes others.”
Even former Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn has weighed in on the Schweinsteiger situation.
Speaking to rumours that there could be offers from Barcelona and Manchester United, Kahn told Kicker, according to the Daily Mail, that he would “understand it completely if Bastian were to leave” the Bavarian capital.
United, for their part, were reported to be interested in acquiring Schweinsteiger back in the summer, as per the Mirror, and could still use reinforcement in central midfield despite last week’s acquisition of playmaker Juan Mata from Chelsea.
Mata, incidentally, found himself on the fringes of a team he had formerly starred in following the return of manager Jose Mourinho, and Schweinsteiger’s Bayern fate could perhaps end up being similar if he doesn’t end up catching Guardiola’s fancy.
Given that his contract expires in 2016, and with a 30th birthday coming in August, Schweinsteiger’s transfer value will only diminish after next summer, which is why Bayern could well choose to cash in on him and move forward with the players they already have in their squad.
That is, of course, unless Schweinsteiger serves up a reminder of just how important he can be to a side—even one that is rightfully rated as the best in club football.
For now, however, it would seem the Germany international is in danger of becoming a forgotten figure at Allianz Arena.