If he were to retire today, Bastian Schweinsteiger would go down in history as a hero of Bayern Munich. Still just shy of his 30th birthday, he's played nearly 500 competitive matches for the Roten, winning eight Bundesliga titles, the DFB-Pokal seven times and also claiming the Champions League, UEFA Superpokal and Club World Cup.
By the numbers and as a club symbol, Schweinsteiger is a rarity in football. The manner in which he extended his contract in 2010 was telling. After months of speculation over his long-term future, he put pen to paper on a four-year extension that would put him at Bayern through the end of the 2015-16 season. The player himself was first to inform the public, famously taking a megaphone at the end of a 3-0 win against St Pauli. His explanation (via Goal.com) may be remembered as one of the most famous statements in club history.
"I’ve said often enough that I want to win the Champions League. But the question for me is this: is that better with Real Madrid, Inter, some other club - or with Bayern Munich? I think I’ve answered that question clearly and unmistakably. We can achieve a lot here."
Much has changed over the last three-and-a-half years. At the time of his extension, Schweinsteiger was in the midst of a personal metamorphosis from underachieving winger with bleached hair and a diminutive nickname ("Schweini," which translates to "piggy") to a mature, world-class holding midfielder.
Five months after his extension, Bayern won the domestic double and narrowly missed out on the Champions League. On the whole, Bayern have, since Schweinsteiger's extension, reached the final of Europe's most prestigious international club tournament in three of the last five seasons, winning it in 2013.
It therefore may, at first consideration, seem a no-brainer that Bayern ought to turn down any interest from Manchester United in Schweinsteiger, whose contract remains valid for two more seasons. According to a report from Dutch source De Telegraaf, (h/t InsideFutbol), Louis van Gaal is keen to bring his former star pupil to Old Trafford this summer.
Despite Schweinsteiger's value as a player and as a club symbol, there are plenty of reasons why now may indeed be the right time for Bayern and Schweinsteiger to part ways.
Reflecting back to the time of his extension, Schweinsteiger has resoundingly completed the mission he set forth in December of 2010. There now is nothing he has not won with Bayern; it's a case of mission accomplished.
Schweinsteiger dropped more than a couple hints in 2010 about his desire to play in the Premier League at some point in his career. In a May interview with Bild (h/t ESPN), he expressed annoyance that Bayern fans were quick to whistle him whereas "that sort of thing does not happen in England."
Later that year, Schweinsteiger told the Sunday Times that his brother was a United fan who often pressured him to join the Red Devils. He asserted that fans are "better" in England than at Bayern because they give their full support when their team tries their best, not only when they are winning. "It's more like they are fans more with the heart," he said. A possible pay rise from his current €10 million-per-year wage couldn't hurt, either.
On an individual level, Schweinsteiger has not in recent years reached the peak he experienced under Van Gaal in 2009-10. He (like Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan) seemed to suffer from post-World Cup fatigue in 2010-11 and in the spring of 2012 he sustained an ankle injury that has become a chronic problem, forcing numerous operations. He admitted (via Fifa.com) to playing through the pain barrier at Euro 2012 and his 31-month stint without playing in international friendlies (which only ended in March) speaks of a player who has not been at 100 percent for a very long time.
Van Gaal transformed Schweinsteiger into the mature player he now is and perhaps the reunion of the pair might see another sharp upturn in the player's career. He still has huge potential and has shown his class many times in the last two-and-a-half seasons, but the injuries have held him back personally and as a result have changed his role for Bayern on the pitch.
From Pep Guardiola's perspective, there are sharply contrasting pros and cons to consider with the potential sale of Schweinsteiger. In terms of fit in the team on the pitch, the player's injury proneness has made him less relied upon as other central-midfield options have come to the fore in recent seasons. Although none has the complete package that Schweinsteiger can offer, Javi Martinez is a better defensive player, Toni Kroos a better distributor and Thiago Alcantara a better creator in the final third than the vice-captain. If Bayern were to play with a one- or two-man central midfield, Schweinsteiger's versatility may be more necessary. In Guardiola's three-man system, his skills are marginalized. And he doesn't have the record of playing at his best in cup finals that Martinez has.
The print-only edition of Sport Bild claimed that in a secret meeting with executives Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Matthias Sammer and Jan-Christian Dreesen, Guardiola requested funds to sign a new midfielder. Such an addition could result in Schweinsteiger being pushed further down the pecking order depending on the scale of the transfer and the exact type of player targeted.
On the other hand, Schweinsteiger is a club symbol and has value for that and his leadership. Kroos remains notorious for having a rather nonchalant attitude and his relative unwillingness to fight and give his all when the going gets tough. Thiago and to a lesser extent Martinez are hired hands, ones that may be fan favorites but simply are not and will not soon be regarded as leaders on the same level as Schweinsteiger.
It therefore may be wise for Guardiola to keep Schweinsteiger in his team even as a substitute. Even if he isn't first choice on the pitch, his influence in training, in the dressing room and on the bench are perhaps his most unique assets. As a voice, even captain Philipp Lahm can't match Schweinsteiger.
At the same time, €10 million-per-year wages are not chump change and Schweinsteiger would at this point still command a moderate transfer fee for Bayern, especially with United desperate to sign quality players in midfield. And although it surely would take some time for him to become frustrated, the player would certainly not be satisfied to play a supporting role in the long term.
Thus could be Bayern's biggest dilemma in the transfer market this summer. It not long ago would have been unthinkable to offload Schweinsteiger, but things change quickly in football. If United's interest is genuine and the money is right, Bayern and Schweinsteiger could consider cashing in and moving on.