Bastian Schweinsteiger had interesting time in Manchester United, but not everything went happy and lucky for him. Maybe on some other parts of his life but not on football.
In many ways, there should never have been a question mark over Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arrival at Manchester United. The Germany skipper, with 100 caps and 23 winner’s medals to his name, was moving from one of the world’s greatest clubs to another of equal standing. And at just £6.5 million, what could possibly go wrong?
But when he left Bayern Munich in the summer of 2015, he did so with a caveat. While Schweinsteiger had left an indelible mark on the Allianz Arena, his struggle to stay fit over the latter stages of his Bundesliga career had taken the shine off his previously-unblemished reputation in Germany.
“When he does not have injury problems, I am completely convinced he will do very well at Manchester United,” Bayern boss Pep Guardiola said upon Schweini’s departure. “He is a top, top player. Unfortunately, during the last three years he was never in good condition. He is going to play really well there. I really hope that is going to happen.”
The qualifier in Guardiola’s statement was the same thing which held back some United fans from going head over heels in their support of the midfielder’s arrival. While they appreciated the 31-year-old’s undoubted quality, many were concerned that manager Louis van Gaal was taking a risk by making an injury-prone player whose better days may be long gone a focal point of his engine room.
Most of the early signs were positive. After being eased into the season with four substitute appearances in his first five games, Schweinsteiger began to have a greater influence on United’s midfield as they marched to the top of the Premier League by the end of September. His vision was helping to open up opponents as expected, but his movement was also better than many could have hoped given his recent record.
Yet as autumn kicked in, teams started to work out the Germany captain. Suddenly sides were having better luck in suffocating United’s attack and closing the space Schweinsteiger had previously had success in finding. What’s more, Arsenal had showed the way in exploiting Schweinsteiger’s lack of mobility alongside fellow thirty-something Michael Carrick, and suddenly whenever they were picked together United were seemingly more vulnerable to pace in front of their back four.
The German’s season has arguably never been the same since he received a three-match ban for smashing West Ham’s Winston Reid with an elbow in December’s 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. After missing a trio of defeats during United’s worst spell in decades, he was only three games into his return when he went down clutching his knee in the dying moments of the FA Cup win over Sheffield United.
After two months out he had recently been looking to step up his return for both club and country, but just four substitute appearances into his comeback his season has been ended after he injured the same knee again in training ahead of Germany’s clash with England here in Berlin on Saturday.
“The MRI scan today found the captain suffered a partial tear of the medial ligament in his right knee after a tackle with an opponent at the end of training on Tuesday,” the German FA confirmed earlier this week.
“Medical care will be provided by Manchester United in coordination with the medical department of the German team.”
It is a disappointing end to an underwhelming first season in the Premier League, in truth. While he has hardly been a waste of money given the relatively low outlay involved in his signing, even club boss Van Gaal has admitted to feeling let down by Schweinsteiger’s return since arriving in Manchester.
“Bastian has been unlucky because he picked up an injury at a time that he was playing very well – he was improving,” Van Gaal said in February.
“However, during December I said that I expect more and he was very disappointed I said that, but I think I can say that because my expectation is higher.
“Manchester United has bought him even though he is now 31, so I had to convince the board to buy him, because he’s a very good player and he always gives a team more balance.”
Perhaps in his expectation that a thirty-plus midfielder with a grim injury record would provide his team some sense of equilibrium, Van Gaal had let himself down in truth. In a season during which United have lost countless players to injuries, this is one that with a little foresight he might have seen coming.
There can be no doubting the assertion that the excitement generated by Schweinsteiger’s arrival has dissipated palpably around Old Trafford. Just as United have struggled to live up to their own reputation, the midfielder has been unable to live up to the expectations associated with being Bastian Schweinsteiger. Perhaps Joachim Low had it right when he claimed last year that now is the time to start looking at life after Schweini.
“Maybe I no longer need Bastian in every match now,” the Germany coach said of his captain in September. “I need him when it is important for us. Then I know that he performs and assumes responsibility and his will to win is like no other.”
But the belief that a player who was brought in to provide much-needed balance should be used for only a small portion of time might take longer for Van Gaal to accept. Having pinned his hopes on Schweinsteiger playing a big part in his plans, the Dutchman might be forced to look for a new Plan A if he remains in charge come the summer.