Is Bastian Schweinsteiger a Help or Hindrance to Germany?

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2016

Germany's midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger vies for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 friendly football match Germany vs Hungary at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany on June 4, 2016. / AFP / PATRIK STOLLARZ        (Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Bastian Schweinsteiger looked exhausted on Saturday as he spoke to broadcaster ZDF after Germany's 2-0 win over Hungary, in which he returned to action after the knee injury he suffered ahead of a friendly against England back in March.

"Twenty-five to 30 minutes has done me good," the 31-year-old said, per the German football association (DFB) official website. "But 90 minutes is too much for the first game. I am fitter going into the Euros than I was two years ago going into the [2014 FIFA] World Cup."

That's hard to believe, seeing as Schweinsteiger has played a grand total of 245 minutes of club football for Manchester United in 2016, per Transfermarkt.co.uk.

In the second half of the season leading up to the 2014 World Cup, he was still a regular for Bayern Munich but entered the tournament in Brazil with patella tendon problems, only making it into the starting XI from the final match in the group stage against Ghana.

He was still vital to Germany's long-awaited fourth world championship, and his bloodied face in the final against Argentina has gone down in the country's rich football history.

Many believe it was Schweinsteiger's fighting spirit and the determination he showed while getting battered by the Argentinians in nearly every duel that won Germany the match.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

That was two years ago, however, and Schweinsteiger's inclusion in the 23-man squad for Euro 2016 seems a gamble on the part of head coach Joachim Low. Despite only turning 32 three weeks after the final on July 10, Germany's captain has looked like an old man in the games he has managed to be on the pitch for in the two years since he led the team to glory.

It raises the question: Is he a help to Germany in France or a hindrance?

If it was only about the sporting value Schweinsteiger can provide, it seems unlikely he would've received his call-up. Due to near-constant injuries in recent years, he's looked like a shadow of his former self both in his last year with the Bavarians and his first season with the Red Devils. 

Louis van Gaal, arguably Schweinsteiger's biggest mentor and proponent over the years—just ahead of Lowacknowledged as much after a disappointing performance in United's final match in the UEFA Champions League group stage at Wolfsburg in December.

Per Agence France-Presse (h/t Yahoo Sports), Van Gaal said: "I took him off and I don't take players off for nothing, but we are all human beings and so is Bastian Schweinsteiger. He wants to play at the highest level, especially in Germany, to show his qualities, but I can't say he was the Bastian Schweinsteiger I saw during my Bayern Munich days."

Jon Super/Associated Press

The Dutchman, of course, was behind the positional move that turned the 31-year-old into the world-class central midfielder he was a few years ago, as he took him away from the wing and put him in the heart of his Bayern team.

Since the 2010 World Cup, Schweinsteiger has been a mainstay in Germany's centre, with strong performances in all three tournaments making him the logical successor to Philipp Lahm as captain and undisputed leader of the team.

However, going into the Euros this summer, the United man can't possibly be considered an automatic starter for Germany.

Toni Kroos might be the first name on the teamsheet, with the Champions League winner proving time and again he's now the boss in midfield. Next to him, the energetic Sami Khedira can be considered another fixed point in Low's plans. He may have missed a lot of games for Juventus this season as well, but he's clearly fitter than Schweinsteiger by some distance.

Low tested Mesut Ozil in a deeper role against Hungary, too, which could be an option against ultra-defensive opponents in France. With the creative genius playing his best season as a professional footballer for Arsenal, it seems unlikely he'll have to move to the wing as he did in Brazil, meaning Germany won't play with three central midfielders.

Schweinsteiger will likely have to make do with a spot on the bench, and one could argue he wouldn't even be the best option from there.

Julian Weigl impressed at Borussia Dortmund, showing maturity beyond his years. Joshua Kimmich played in a variety of roles for Pep Guardiola's Bayern, doing surprisingly well at centre-back, but his best and most natural position is still in midfield. Finally, Liverpool's Emre Can has the athleticism and power Low could go for if he feels a need to energise his team with a substitution.

The one thing these three don't have, Schweinsteiger has in abundance: experience.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

It's the 31-year-old's greatest attribute at this point of his illustrious career and, one would imagine, the biggest reason he's in the squad. 

Schweinsteiger has seen it all with Germany. He's experienced moments of great joy and utter despair, won the World Cup in 2014 and went out in the group stage of Euro 2004. On the day of writing, he's been a Germany international for exactly 12 years.

Experience is massively important during these tournaments, where teams spend so much time together in hotels and aeroplanes.

"We have a good mix, and the experienced players are taking care of the youngsters," general manager Oliver Bierhoff said in a press conference during the training camp in Ascona, Switzerland, per DFB.de.

Germany have one of the youngest teams, as this graphic shows, so it's vital the older players understand their responsibilities:

OptaFranz @OptaFranz

5 - The 5 youngest squads of the EURO 2016 in France. Talent. #OptaEuro https://t.co/8g167xWCdW

It's safe to assume that Schweinsteiger is one of those players who have the big picture in mind.

Not only does he wear the captain's armband, he's also the oldest player in the squad. Lukas Podolski may have won more caps than him since they debuted in the same match against Hungary in 2004, but the Galatasaray attacker hardly qualifies as a leader in the traditional sense.

Schweinsteiger, on the other hand, has become a great leader over the years, which, despite the difficulties of his first season in England, he showed at United as well.

In March, Bleacher Report's Paul Ansorge wrote:

He has made his impression felt at telling moments this season—the last-gasp own-goal winner at Watford in November, for example, was a result of his drive and endeavour. He has been extremely vocal on the pitch, especially when supporting young players. He is often pictured with an arm around the shoulder of a team-mate.

Even if he's not the great player he once was—he isn't—Schweinsteiger's still important to this team.

Though his contributions may come more off the field than on it, calling him a hindrance to Germany's Euro 2016 hopes would not only be a massive overstatement, it would be dead wrong.

Lars Pollmann is a Featured Columnist who also writes for YellowWallPod.com. You can follow him on Twitter.


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