Bayern Munich fans across the world would have smiled in delight this week when they finally saw the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger as a substitute during the 5-0 victory over Hamburg in the DFB Pokal Cup.
Yet despite Bayern's obvious talents and treble-chasing form at the moment, it is no more than simple arithmetic that points out that the Bavarian star simply does not have a space in this red-hot side. For while the German and Bayern star was out injured, the club moved on.
The German and European champions have a new midfield, and whether or not Schweinsteiger fits in to that is certainly up for debate.
Oddly enough, in Schweinsteiger's absence it hasn't been converted midfielder Philipp Lahm or German prodigy Toni Kroos who has taken on the Bayern vice captain's role in the side, but the young Spaniard Thiago from Barcelona. And what a job he's doing.
If Bayern have indeed been converted to Pep Guardiola's style of football, then it is in young Thiago that the side look most potent with the ball. Far from a cheerleader for his Catalonian coach, the central midfielder essentially glides through the centre of the pitch with the technical ability to unhinge any defence. Add to that a pass completion rate that would make Xavi blush and you have a player with serious intentions.
What this means for the returning midfield general is still unknown.
In the current setup, a simple but effective 4-1-4-1 formation, Schweinsteiger is actually more likely to take up Lahm's current role, but considering the new coach's admiration for the converted full-back in the middle of the park, one could only speculate as to where Schweinsteiger actually fits into this team.
We've already seen his midfield partner in last season's tremendously successful side, the exceptionally talented Javi Martinez, be converted to a central defender through either necessity or the simple manner of making use of his talents.
Yet Schweinsteiger can't simply return to his former trade of part-time winger for this side. If he can't play in central midfield, then there's little room for him at Bayern.
Across Schweinsteiger's back comes another foe from a battleground that few thought possible just a few years before. For the Bayern playmaker may be No. 1 for Germany at the moment, but that too could just as easily change before long.
We are, of course, talking about the rise of ex-Nurnberg and now Borussia Dortmund star midfielder, Ilkay Gundogan. One of the Bundesliga's brightest stars last season, Gundogan helped Jurgen Klopp's side in domestic and European battles with Bayern and is undoubtedly a future starter for the German national team—in a position currently held by our fallen Bavarian hero.
Gundogan poses a direct threat to Schweinsteiger's claim to the position for two main reasons.
The first being that he's young and in demand. Every top club throughout Europe has been linked with the Dortmund midfielder, and although speculation is rarely worth betting on, you can be sure that the queue of suitors for the young man's signature will be around the corner. If this were an election, the polls would suggest that momentum is in Gundogan's favour.
The second reason is that he's simply a better player than Schweinsteiger. That's not to say that he'll go on to do all that the Bayern midfielder has accomplished until now, but when we watch Gundogan defend with such tenacity and then attack with such flair and precision, it's hard to find a midfielder across Europe with as many strings to their bow like he. Schweinsteiger certainly wasn't at that age (23).
The other aspect of the midfielder's career with Germany that works against him is that he hasn't accomplished anything with the national team yet.
Like Philipp Lahm and the young players such as Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos to a lesser extent, Schweinsteiger's success at Bayern looms over his every performance for his national side and is often the yard stick to which we compare and contrast every competition that he takes part in.
In the modern game it would seem quite fitting to suggest that the World Cup or European Championships are no harder to win than the Champions League itself. So why is it that Schweinsteiger can't push Germany forward like he has done with Bayern in the three finals they've reached in Europe's pinnacle tournament over the past four years?
Unfortunately such a question is one that we couldn't possibly answer today and one we may never fully answer unless Germany go on and create history this summer. Yet for Schweinsteiger the problem still remains, with his enemies at the gates.
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