Bastian Schweinsteiger is a name that has been on every Germany and Bayern Munich fan's lips since his debut against RC Lens in 2002. Inbetween that and Euro 2004 was a period of steady growth for the midfielder, making appearances in a variety of positions under then Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfield which showed the fans just how versitile a player he can grow to be. But with the versatility has come a problem for 'Schweini', he has rarely been able to play in his personal favourite position, Central Attacking Midfield.
Such have been the circumstances of the German and Bayern team during his rise from a reserve to a consistent starter that Schweini has been made to fill the left side of midfield for majority of his matches. With a 28 year old Ballack in the prime of his career, it would have been near impossible for Schweinsteiger to get into the CAM position for Germany and Bayern and such was the dearth of talent in the Left Midfield slot for Germany that Schweinsteiger was made to occupy that position. Following solid performances after Euro 2004 under Klinsamann, Schweinsteiger made that position his own.
Forward onto summer 2006. Following a highly successful World Cup in his hometown, Schweinsteiger was the toast of the town in Bavaria, and much was expected of him for the next season with Ballack having left for Chelsea, this was finally the chance for him to fulfill his much though about talent and take over the play making role that 'Balla' did so admirably for the past 4 seasons. Sadly, the season turned out be nothing as expected for Schweini. Bayern were poor and were said to lack creativity in midfield as they slumped to a lowly 4th place in the Bundesliga. Schweinsteiger was made the scapegoat for Bayern fans including General Manager Oli Honess. But that was, in my opinion, very harsh upon the then 22 yr old, for Bayern had a poor team overall. Van Bommel was brought in but didnt provide much offensively while a forward line of Makaay, Pizzaro and an injured Poldi was no where near world class, Makaay was getting old while Pizzaro is simply an average player.
Bayern are in a state of turmoil. But it all seemed for the better when Bayern announced the signings of France star Frank Ribery and Italian World Cup winner Luca Toni. Toni has nothing to do with what I'm trying to prove in this article, but it is Ribery. For it was his signing that could have possibly ruined Schweinsteiger's progress into a great midfielder.
After Ribery came in, it was all about him. He was the playmaker, the central figure and every attacking move went through him. Bayern were back to their best, but Schweinsteiger cut a lonely figure out on the right for most minutes of matches and was thus dropped before the winter break even came in. It was probably one of the worst times of his career as he was slowly losing his place in the Germany side under Loew.
Bayern hit a bad spell straight after Schweinsteiger was dropped and injuries started to kick in. Sooner rather than later, Schweinsteiger was back in the starting line-up. And it was then, while watching him play, that I realizied just how this period changed Schweinsteiger's game and maturity. He wasnt the same kid who would constantly try to beat his man on the dribble, but rather chose to find a player better positioned. His passes were more accurate, along with his vision. He was starting to pick out teammates with through balls and long 40 yard passes with the same ease. Its wasn't like he had lost his ability to play on the dribble, he showed quite a few times that he can beat his defender on the wings, but his passing game has remarkably improved from his first ventures into Bayern's first team.
Schweinsteiger was in stunning form towards the end of the season, especially with Ribery injured. He was made the play maker during that time and he lifted Bayern with his brilliant passing, vision and creativity. His best performance was by-far in the 5-0 romping of Borussia Dortmund where he ripped through the Dortmund defence. These performances just showed that Schweinsteiger is ready to take that role. It is a straight shot out between Ribery and Schweini for the play maker role, with both being very different players.
Ribery is role traditional flair player, a man who loves to run with the ball and hit defenders face on. His pace and amazing dribbling skills make him almost impossible to defend against. But in what he lacks is Schweinsteiger's strength, passing and final balls. Schwiensteiger is currently leading the assists table for Bayern, which is not surprising considering the way he has improved that asset of his game over the past season. His passing is more incisive than Ribery's and his crosses are a strikers heaven. Klose has been profiting from them alot lately. But for now, it seems for Bayern that Ribery is the cheif in midfield and Schweinsteiger would probably have to restrict himself to a lesser role on the right of midfield, although its a completley different situation for Germany.
Ballack is 32 and reaching the twilight of his carrer, it would be a tight decision for his selection for the World Cup in 2010 (considering Germany will qualify, which they easily should). The question remains as to how will fill his place when he does finally decide to hang up his boots, and the answer IMO is no doubt Schweinsteiger. But for the question for me isnt really 'when' Ballack hangs his boots, I think Schweinsteiger should be played in CAM from now on, he is showing more and more potential in that position which was made more evident during the 2nd half of the qualifier against Wales where Schweinsteiger took a more central role and created numerous oppurtunities for the German team. Ballack didnt have the effect he would have 2-3 years ago and therefore I think it would be best for Germany if 'Schweini' plays more in that position.
Dont get me wrong, Ballack is my favourite Germany player of all time, alongside Klinsmann and Mattaus. But ist the natural evolution of a team that a young player takes the mantle from the experienced leader and takes them to the next era. And Schweinsteiger is that person to take us there, to the World Cup finals in South Africa and to further glory.