International Football

Is Bastian Schweinsteiger Germany's Best Option to Replace Captain Philipp Lahm?

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger holds up the trophy as he celebrates after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Mario Goetze volleyed in the winning goal in extra time to give Germany its fourth World Cup title with a 1-0 victory over Argentina on Sunday. (AP Photo/Francois Xavier Marit, Pool)
Francois Xavier Marit/Associated Press
Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2014

Following the retirement of Philipp Lahm from international duty last month, Germany are in need of a new captain. Since the 30-year-old decided to hang up his boots, there has been plenty of speculation but no final decision made by coach Joachim Low.

But speaking to Bild (subscription required), World Cup winning player and coach Franz Beckenbauer weighed in on the issue on Monday. To him, the clear choice is Bastian Schweinsteiger.

In his analysis, the Kaiser labeled Schweinsteiger a leader, one who earned a great deal of respect for his heroics in the most recent World Cup final. He said that the midfielder, who is currently vice-captain for both Bayern Munich and Germany, understands the captaincy role and has the leadership qualities that can lift an entire team.

Beckenbauer makes some very valid points. Schweinsteiger began the 2014 World Cup unfit and didn't even start until Germany's third and final group-stage match. Yet though cramping, he managed to play 109 minutes in the round of 16 and didn't miss a single minute of the tournament thereafter. In the final, per FIFA, he covered a game-high 15,339 meters.

A captain isn't necessarily always the best or fittest member of a team: The decisive factor in justifying his wearing the armband is his ability to inspire the other 10 men on the pitch.

Schweinsteiger, although great in the final, ran only some 159 meters further than teammate Thomas Mueller (who, although fatigued, seemed to handle the workload much better), and his actual productivity was at least rivaled, if not matched, by Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Andre Schurrle and Mario Goetze.

Schweinsteiger was exhausted throughout the World Cup but kept fighting.
Schweinsteiger was exhausted throughout the World Cup but kept fighting.Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Yet it was Schweinsteiger who would have most deserved the captain's armband had he worn it.

The way he fought through the pain barrier, the way he gave every last ounce of effort was truly inspirational. It was the final, possibly his last at a World Cup. He needed to summon every bit of effort he had, and that perhaps was what spurred on some of his younger and less experienced teammates.

In his earlier years, Schweinsteiger may have put in a yeoman's effort in a final. He may have been fit enough to cover even more ground and may have played an even better game individually. But it's doubtful that he would have put in the extra few percent he showed against Argentina.

For a player to look deep into his soul and understand exactly how he can impact a game and recognize exactly where the line stands between playing well for 120 minutes and collapsing some time before requires a certain maturity that only comes with experience.

On the other hand, for Low to select Schweinsteiger to be his next captain would be risky. The 30-year-old is less than nine months younger than Lahm. The retirement of his Bayern teammate is a reminder of just how little time Schweinsteiger may have left at a high level.

And that, coupled with Spain's World Cup disaster, will also remind the Kolbermoor-born midfielder that he might prefer to retire at the top of his game rather than suffering a fate like that of Xavi.

From Low's perspective, Schweinsteiger isn't exactly a sure bet not only for his age but for his propensity to be injured.

Per Transfermarkt, the Bayern man missed a career-high 99 days of action in 2013-14. He's suffered from persistent ankle problems that have forced him to regularly play with pain since the spring of 2012. As such, he didn't make a single international friendly appearance for a span of 938 days between August of 2011 and March of this year.

To appoint Schweinsteiger captain would be to accept the possibility that he could no longer be starting XI-quality by the time of Euro 2016, and that there's a greater chance, relative to that of some of the other options, that he could miss the tournament through injury.

Although Schweinsteiger managed to muster up a heroic performance at the World Cup, at some point, it all comes to an end. Xavi would know.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

There are other natural leaders in the Germany squad, like Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira. Of those three, Neuer and Khedira are significantly more experienced and would be higher up the ladder of potential candidates.

And only the latter would ever have a chance of running himself into the ground like Schweinsteiger did at the World Cup. But as Oliver Kahn, Carles Puyol and Francesco Totti have shown in recent years, there are many ways to lead a team.

For the moment, Low has in Schweinsteiger his most obviously qualified choice to take the Germany captaincy.

But football can change drastically in a matter of months and even weeks. Low made all the right choices, including many that were controversial, as he led Germany to win the 2014 World Cup.

He's on for another two years: If the Nationalmannschaft are to win their fourth European Championship title in 2016, the first step is to name the right successor to Lahm. History will be the judge.

 

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