Saturday's match with Freiburg marked Bastian Schweinsteiger's 500th game for Bayern Munich. The Germany captain, a member of the club from the age of 13, marked the occasion with a goal and nearly grabbed another. But the hosts poured cold water on his celebration as ex-Bayern man Nils Petersen nabbed a last-minute winner to claim a 2-1 victory.
The game saw the best of Schweinsteiger, a natural leader, who ghosted into the box to slot home the go-ahead goal from Mitchell Weiser's cross. He also came painfully close to getting a late winner of his own as his free-kick rebounded off the crossbar.
It also saw the worst of Schweinsteiger, who sloppily conceded possession at the edge of his own penalty area and chased the shadow of Admir Mehmedi as the 24-year-old fired in the equalizer.
Moments like the opener bring smiles to the faces of Bayern fans, while the goal conceded is one of the reasons coach Pep Guardiola is understood to not be a fan of the vice-captain. Guardiola biographer Graham Hunter explained last June (via talkSPORT radio) that the trainer sees his vice-captain as too indecisive on the ball.
At the time, selling Schweinsteiger would have been a possibility if Bayern had been able to land Cesc Fabregas. Now, it may be an option as Bayern face the challenge of reinvigorating their midfield with new faces this summer, with Schweinsteiger, Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm all in their 30s.
At present, Schweinsteiger's contract is set to expire in 2016, and there have been no hints in the media about a possible extension. To the contrary, the 30-year-old told Sport1 (in German) in March that he feels no pressure to sign a new contract.
Schweinsteiger also intimated that Bayern meant a lot to him, which cannot be questioned. The Kolbermoor native, born less than an hour's drive from the Allianz Arena, is a Bayern man through and through.
When, amid interest from several top clubs, he announced his decision to pen a contract in 2010 to keep him in Munich until 2016, it was a monumental moment in the club's history and his career as a professional footballer. According to Eurosport, at the final whistle of a 3-0 win against St Pauli, the midfielder announced to fans at the Allianz Arena that he would extend his contract. He added:
"I think we have a great group here and my heart is red and I prefer to win the Champions League with Bayern than with Real Madrid."
At the same time, Schweinsteiger has a responsibility to his country as Germany captain and needs to start next season. He's played nearly every game for Bayern since missing much of the first half of the campaign with a knee injury, but that came amid an injury crisis at Bayern.
The exact role he'll play—with the likes of Lahm and Javi Martinez fit, and the possibility of a new signing like Marco Verratti joining the club—is uncertain. If he indeed becomes surplus to Guardiola's requirements, Bayern will certainly do the courtesy of allowing Schweinsteiger to move along.
Otherwise, the 30-year-old may stay on for another year and could even extend his contract further, especially if Guardiola does not.
The odds of him remaining a starter in the long term remain slim, however, with him having become very injury-prone over the last few years. Per Transfermarkt, he's had 15 separate ailments since the beginning of the 2011-12 campaign, and injuries in the last two seasons have caused him to miss 50 games. It seems that in his advanced years, the veteran has become quite fragile, which cannot inspire confidence from the Bayern management.
What could cause Schweinsteiger to extend his contract is his love for the club, and an appreciation from the management for his role as a leader on and off the pitch. Although the very peak of his career came in the spring and summer of 2010, he's shown on occasion that he can bring flashes of brilliance. He was heroic in the 2014 World Cup final and outstanding for Bayern in their recent win against Barcelona.
Still, it is no contentious issue that Schweinsteiger is past his peak, when he could play at a world-class level on a week in, week out basis. After being decisively beaten over two legs by Barca, Bayern may soon look towards a younger midfielder to bring new ideas in the center of the park. Sporting director Matthias Sammer at least suggested that much in an interview with BT Sport (via the Daily Mail) last month.
For now, fans should enjoy Schweinsteiger for what he is: An imperfect player no longer at his very best, but one who bleeds for the only club he's ever known as a professional and who will give everything he can for Bayern Munich as long as he wears the shirt. It's a rarity in professional sports these days, and it should not be undervalued.
Against Freiburg, Schweinsteiger hit a new milestone and began his long goodbye with a spirited performance. The Bayern faithful can celebrate this, the next and the one after that, each time hoping it won't be the last.