Born: 1 August 1984 in Kolbermoor (Germany)
Clubs: 1990-1992: FV Oberaudorf. 1992-1998: TSV 1860 Rosenheim. Since 1 July 1998: Bayern Munich.
Honours: German league champion 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008. German cup winner 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Third place at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. Runner-up at EURO 2008. 57 appearances for Germany, 16 goals.
From a “nice lad” to a world-class star?
Bastian Schweinsteiger is currently riding high with the fans of both Germany and German giants Bayern Munich, but will the crowd’s hero one day blossom into a top-class player?
The 2008-2009 Bundesliga season was just over 11 minutes old when the sequel to one of the summers success stories began. Once again, a player broke down the left flank and crossed low into the opponent’s penalty area, and once again a blond team-mate stole in from the opposite wing to fire home. The two assists t EURO 2008 had both come from Lukas Podolski, but this time the man in question was Ze Roberto. All three chances were expertly converted by the same player: Bastian Schweinsteiger.
In the quarter-finals of the European Championship, Schweinsteiger had displayed a turn of pace that few knew he actually possessed to burst from the right wing and into the Portuguese penalty area before sliding in to give Germany a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute. Then, four days later, he repeated the trick, once again in Basle, by stealing in at the near post to divert a low Podolski cross into the far corner with a deft flick of his right foot. That particular equaliser, in the 26lh minute of the semi-final against Turkey, was a masterclass in technique. He followed that up just over four weeks later, during Bayern Munich’s first home game if the new season, with a goal straight ,out of the same textbook, smashing
the ball home to give Bayern an early lead over Hamburg. This time, Bayern’s number 31 was on the edge of the penalty area when he shifted his body weight — all 79 kilograms of it – to the left before emphatically drilling the ball on the half-volley back in the direction it came from and straight into the Hamburg nee.
A BEAUTIFUL ILLUSION
People are wondering whether the Schweinsteiger story will continue in the same vein. Will he, unlike in 2006, be able to learn from the events of a major tournament, which are so different to league football? In 2006 it was the FIFA World Cup™, and in 2008 it was the European Championship. Schweinsteiger also had his moments at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in Germany, most notably in the play-off for third place when his two superb goals against Portugal helped to gloss over a tournament in which he had, until then, been a disappointment. The German coach at the time, Jurgen Klinsmann, had substituted him in both the round of 16 and the quarter-final, and he had even consigned him to the bench for the start of the semi-final
With their youthful frivolity and “cheeky chappy” comments, Schweinsteiger and Podolski were the undoubted stars of the “Summer Fairytale” movie of the FIFA
World Cup, but the two best friends almost seemed to stay in their little fantasy world. Schweinsteiger in particular continued to live in that summer fairytale. The beautiful illusion created by the film had obviously had an effect on him even though his performances in 2006 had been decidedly average at best. Unsure of a starting place at Bayern, Schweinsteiger was all of a sudden a key member of the German team, with new coach Joachim Low selecting him 16 times between the end of the FIFA World Cup™ and the start of EURO 2008. Only injuries prevented Schweinsteiger from playing in a further five games, and when a German second string took to the field for a friendly match, Schweinsteiger was obviously no longer anywhere to be seen.
Small wonder, then, that Low’s decision to banish Schweinsteiger to the bench for the start of Germany’s EURO 2008 campaign did not sit comfortably with the players own image of himself. And then, when Schweinsteiger took to the pitch in the second game to try and prove his boss wrong, his emotions got the better of him and he recklessly reacted to a challenge by pushing Croatia’s Leko to the floor. The result was a red card and a suspension that kept him out of the Austria match. Then came Schweinsteiger’s two tours de force as Germany eliminated both Portugal and Turkey in the knockout stages before the sporting show came to an end with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Spain in the final. Off the field, however, it continued, just as it had throughout the entire tournament. Schweinsceiger had been in the headlines primarily due to his girlfriend Sarah, a model with long, flowing blonde locks who had cleverly used her time in the Alpine states of Austria and Switzerland to promote herself and take her place as the most famous of all German “WAGs”. The young couple have even been called “the Beckhams of Munich”.
Yet although Schweinsteiger has posed for fashion and style magazines and has recently been a familiar sight at some of Munich’s most fashionable addresses, the people who know him best describe him as a down-to-earth and somewhat naive young man who is only searching for harmony and family comfort. “Bastian is a nice lad,” says Uli Hoeness. Bayern Munich’s general manager has always been a strict but honest and fatherly figure to Schweinsteiger, whom he describes as “totally OK”.
In early September, when a Russian journalist asked Schweinsteiger about Russia’s prospects ahead of their match in Germany on 11 October 2008, the
midfielder was actually stumped for a reply. “I can’t do that to you. After all, you’ve come so far,” he said in a kindly, natural and yet unintentionally comic reply.
Schweinsteiger can, however, also come across as brusque, curt and aloof. In those moments, he can go from being a young, kindly, rascal-like, smiling favourite of teenage girls – the star that he rightly is given the fact that he has already racked up nearly 60 German caps by the age of 24 – into a moody diva with star allures that his age and performances to date hardly justify. He is also known for his tendency to be sensitive towards and offended by critical comments about below-par performances. Schweinsteiger believes that such criticism is unwarranted and has talked about “a lack of respect”. When he talks in general terms about Germany’s alleged tendency to over-criticise, his comments do sound a little precocious.
In recent: years, Hoeness has been kind and lenient in his description of Schweinsteiger as “someone in search of something”. He knows that Schweinsteiger is a young footballer who for a long time did not have the correct bearings. He also knew that he had often chosen the
wrong people as part of his entourage. Schweinsteiger has, for example, on more than one occasion quickly dispensed with the services of advisers … decisions that have cost him a small fortune. And then in another harmless example of the zigzag path that his career has followed, in early August, Schweinsteiger announced that he wanted to take up Bayern’s new offer of further education to improve his English. By the end of August, it was his Italian. In both instances, he was quick to stress that people should to jump to conclusions as to his future career intentions.
Yet that particular question is becoming all the more pertinent because Schweinsteiger, who has been at Bayern since 1998, is currently in his seventh Bundesliga season and his contract is set to expire on 30 June 2009. Bayern usually manage to tie their top performers and shooting stars down to extended, long-term contracts, but so far they have not done so with Schweinsteiger. In the run-up to EURO 2008, Bayern even started to consider a future without him and there was talk about a possible swap deal with Arsenal’s Alexander Hleb, who has since moved to Barcelona. In the end, Arsenal declined the offer. Then, all of a sudden, Schweinsteiger propelled himself back into the headlines with his perfotmances against Portugal and Turkey, promptly giving Bayern’s bosses a new headache. Would they really be able to explain to their fans why they had sold such a valuable player? Or why they had sold one of their favourite sons? When Bayern’s stadium announcer at the Allianz Arena in Munich reads out the line-ups before every home game and gets to “number 31 … Bastian …”, Schweinsteiger is the only player for whom the crowd add “Football God!” after bellowing his surname.
“I AM MORE EFFECTIVE NOW”
Schweinsteiger could well be the next in a long line of famous homegrown Bayern players that includes the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner and Klaus Augenthaler … but is he good enough? The Bayern hierarchy still has its doubts. In the wake of captain Oliver Kahn’s retirement, the issue of his successor was discussed both inside and outside the club, but Schweinsteiger’s name was never mentioned. Philipp Lahm, jus: one year older than Schweinsteiger, was one of the main candidates, mainly because the defender is generally said to be more mature and more developed on a personal level. One of Bayern’s main priorities was to persuade Lahm to extend his contract until 2012, which he was happy to do. In Schweinsteiger’s case, however, Hoeness made his feelings clear when he said that the midfielder’s performances against Portugal and Turkey had set the bar for his future, which would be discussed soon.
Schweinsteiger obviously understood and took that comment to heart. He is quick to reject the frankly understandable theory that his development has slowed down and that he did not improve as a player between the two matches against Portugal In 2006 and 2008 by pointing to the number of appearances and medals he now has under his belt at Bayern, even though other players have clearly been the main architects of the club’s recent success. That said, Schweinsteiger has shown a new side to himself in the 2008-2009 season. He has, to a certain extent, grasped the opportunity presented to him by the injuries sustained by Franck Ribery and Hamit Altintop. “I am more effective now,” he claims. Prior to this season, Schweinsteiger had only scored 15 goals in 153 Bundesliga appearances, including one paltry goal in the 2007-2008 season – a decidedly disappointing return for an attacking midfielder. He did, however, score twice in the first three games of the new season, including one from the penalty spot. Yet more evidence of the new Bastian Schweinsteiger …
HONOURED TO BE CAPTAIN
In Germany’s first match after EURO 2008, a friendly against Belgium, Schweinsteiger was even given the black-red-and-gold captain’s armband as he was the most experienced player in the team in the absence of Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Christoph Metzlder. As the capitan, he also bore the responsibility of taking a penalty kick, rejecting Lahm’s overtures in the process, to fire Germany into 1-0 lead. “Philipp asked if he could take it,” joked Schweinsteiger afterwards. “But I told him he could’t because he had just scored against Turkey!” True, but so did Schweinsteiger! “Oh yeah…”
Ten days later, Bayern were awarted a penalty against Hertha Berlin. Having been ordered to do so by manager Jurgen Klinsmann, Schweinsteiger promptly took the ball without so much as a sideways glance at Lahm, and once again he converted. When Bayern were given another penalty later in the game, Schweinsteiger showed the generous side of his nature and encouraged Miroslav Klose, and not Luca Toni, to take the kick so that he could finally break his drought in front of goal.
LACK OF PACE
“I get the feeling that my opinion counts for something,” says Schweinsteiger while admitting that he is not ready to lead
the team yet. He is right. Nevertheless, it was Schweinsteiger who stepped up to the plate in the absence of Ballack and Frings. His position in the German team is much more secure than at Bayern, where he has lost his preferred left-wing position to French superstar Franck Ribery. In the second half of the 2007-2008 season, he switched to the right to fill in for metatarsal victim AJtintop, and although he also impressed in that position at EURO 2008, right wing is not Schweinsteiger’s ideal position. Bayern’s bosses know all too well that he does not possess that vital yard of pace to enable him to dribble past the world’s best full-backs, which is why you will often see Schweinsteiger play passes across the field or backwards to his team-mates.
Schweinsteiger’s technique, vision and ability to shoot low and hard would perhaps be better utilised in central midfield, but if he is to ever move inside, he will need to be stronger in the tackle and more efficient going forward. His little twists and turns take the pace and the element of surprise out of his game, and in football, as in life, he will soon have to decide where he wants to go.
“I want to develop even further,” says Schweinsteiger. He will have to develop even further, if only for his own sake, so that Bayern Munich can tie him down to a lucrative, long-term contract. Or failing that, another of European football’s giants.
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