A biography would not do Bastian Schweinsteiger justice. He is a rather special one. In the current setup, he is or was the oldest of the group of players who played in the youth system and remained at Bayern throughout their entire senior years. Philipp Lahm was the quiet leader leading by example and still is on the pitch; Basti was the vocal one, pushing everyone forward, even when a certain Dutch captain was around.
Little was known about the youngster when he made his debut in 2002. Only Otmar Hitzfeld truly knew what he was hiding in the Bayern reserves. Schweinsteiger, a left back by trade back then, was handed his debut in a critical moment in a Champions League showdown (for the opposition) against Lens in 2002. Hitzfeld was under pressure at the time because Bayern had not won a single game in the Champions League. They were going to go out; but they still had a say in Lens' destiny.
He had less than 15 minutes to make an impact, and he did. As the match was coming to an end, he sent in a ball into the box. Giovane Elber rose up to meet it; his header hit the bar. The rebound fell to Markus Feulner who made no mistake. Bayern was within minutes of recording their first Champions League win of the campaign. It was not to be because Lens equalized late into injury time but the result saw Deportivo progress at their expense. Nonetheless, Basti had made his mark.
The coming months would prove to be more testing for both Basti and Hitzfeld. A couple of incidents angered Bayern. He broke into the club's private pool one night with a girl, proclaiming her to be his cousin when caught. He drove at 150 km/hr on a road where the limit was 80 km/hr. The police obviously got involved in the second incident. Hitzfeld stood by his man though. Had Hermann Gerland been the assistant, Basti might have been more careful. After all, in his days at the reserve, Gerland had banished him from the team after he had dyed his hair black. He was only allowed to return after the hair color wore off.
After his debut, he had to wait much longer for a first goal. In the following season, Hitzfeld handed him his trust and played him no less than 23 times in the league. In September 2003, his debut goal came and it was an absolute beauty. Down 1-0 against Wolfsburg, Schweinsteiger took the ball near the halfway line, ran with it through the Wolfsburg defense and slotted the ball into the right hand corner of the goal neatly.
His appearance numbers declined the next season, but he did enough to warrant a senior Germany call. Rudi Völler felt he could play in any spot in attacking midfield and wanted to hand him the injured Paul Freier's spot. In Euro 2004, he was, alongside Philipp Lahm, one of the only bright spots in a very dull German side.
Hitzfeld would not be there forever, especially because an aging Bayern team bereft of determination needed some change. In came Felix Magath. Magath, the strict disciplinarian, did not have Hitzfeld's patience; upon his arrival for the 2004-05 season, Basti was sent to the reserves. But even Magath saw the talent and he was brought back to the senior side within a few weeks. In that season, Schweinsteiger played more than ever before. In addition to 26 appearances in the league, he made seven appearances in the Champions League. Nearly a year after his first goal, he finally found the net in Europe in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
It was not quite the beauty his first Bundesliga goal was but it showed his instincts as an attacker. A Ballack freekick hit the wall and found Ze Roberto on the edge of the box. His shot was punched away by Petr Cech only for Schweinsteiger to come and score from the rebound. The score was 1-1 after the goal, but, as luck would have it, Bayern went on to lose that match, 4-2.
Schweinsteiger's performances at the 2006 World Cup showed both sides of his character; sometimes he disappeared in matches and Jürgen Klinsmann, (whether for some tactical aspect or not) left him out of the semifinal clash against Italy. Then, against Portugal, he starred, showing what he can do when he is interested.
Bayern was starting to worry. After the World Cup, his performances dropped and he was no longer the man they wanted on the left of midfield. In 2007, Franck Ribery came. Schweinsteiger had to make do with a spot on the right. He was always a Bayern boy and hence Uli Hoeness, one never to mince his words, said the following about Basti's increasingly average performances and lack of concentration at the beginning of matches: "Too many people have blown sugar up his arse since the World Cup. I want to punch him."
His performances on the right were not up to the mark either but Schweinsteiger kept his head down and played wherever Bayern wanted him to. His defensive skills needed some improvement. Two years of disappointing performances though were starting to get on Hoeness' nerves. The fact that his shift to the right came under Otmar Hitzfeld, the very man who trusted him on a Champions League night after two practice sessions, was rather telling. Even Hitzfeld did not believe as much in Basti as he once did. Hope was not lost though as Hitzfeld kept playing him.
When the Euros came around in 2008, Lukas Podolski, one of Bayern's post World Cup signings, was nearly done with Bayern. But Basti talked about his home club differently, according to Die Zeit:
"When he talks about Bayern, the club where he has been since the age of 14, it sounds sometimes as if he's talking about over-protective parents."
Bayern and Basti were not giving up on each other , especially in light of his ties to Munich. A journalist in Munich once said "When I'm lost I call my driver Bastian!" when asked whether he knew his way around the city, showing exactly how much Schweinsteiger was at home in Bavaria.
Hitzfeld stepped down eventually in 2008 and Jürgen Klinsmann took his place. The year was a rather forgettable one, one in which Jupp Heynckes was needed to dig the team out of trouble and put them in a UEFA Champions League spot.
And then, shortly after, Bayern announced that Louis Van Gaal was set to take over.
Van Gaal was brave. In many ways, he was the change which Bayern needed. And Van Gaal turned Basti into a central midfielder. In his 4-2-3-1 setting, Basti set up alongside Mark Van Bommel and acted as the attacking member of the two. Moreover, his lack of defensive skill was protected by Van Bommel and he was in a position in which speed was not vital, unlike the wing. He could finally use his vision. In 2008, the German team psychologist Hans-Dieter Hermann had told Schweinsteiger his biggest strength was his instinct. He proved to be right.
Basti went from a rather average winger to an exceptional defensive midfielder that season. This is where he stayed, moving a step or two forward to join the attack when needed. He became the vital cog Bayern wanted him to be. He was the driving force aside from Arjen Robben which saw Bayern come within in a game of winning a first treble in 2010. He had an excellent World Cup as well and was the man who engineered the 4-0 destruction of Argentina in the quarter-finals.
But in the 2011/12 season, Schweinsteiger, the boy who had finally grown up, had the worst season of his career. Heynckes fixed the Bayern defense and they looked like a team ready to challenge for the Champions League crown and perhaps even win it in a final at home. In November, before he knew what hit him against Napoli, Schweinsteiger found himself in the hospital with a collar bone injury following a horrendous collision with Gokhan Inler. His bone was broken and he was out for months.
Bastian Schweinsteiger's Departure
Basti's Departure: Another Forlorn Experience
Letting go of Bastian Schweinsteiger is a terrible experience for a fan, but is an experience I have lived through before.
Basti Leaves Bayern
It was young Toni Kroos's turn to grow up. But Kroos was not the fastest man; his partner, Luiz Gustavo, a very good player but not with Mark Van Bommel's mean gene, could not always offer him enough protection. Bayern went along and as luck would have it, Schweinsteiger returned. He was not the same as before; but, in front of a roaring Madrid crowd, he scored the penalty that would take Bayern to their home final.
He did not do much wrong in the final. He stood back and watched his team miss shot after shot. He watched Arjen Robben miss a potential match-winning penalty. And then, in the penalty shootout, with both sides tied, he went forward. The inside of the post is as close as he came. And shortly after, as Chelsea ran with joy, one could only wonder if Bastian would recover from it. His performances at the Euros in 2012 displayed tiredness; many thought that was it for him. He would always be the nearly man.
But then, Heynckes believed in Schweinsteiger. Basti always needed his coach to believe in him. The moment which was needed to fire up Basti again came in Bayern's opening group match against Valencia in the 2012-13 season. He scored the first goal and on his face was not just sheer elation; hidden behind the smiles was relief.
2012 was gone; this was a new start and Bayern could do it. The belief increased as Bayern demolished everyone in front of them in the Bundesliga and all other competitions. Heynckes' words surely helped Schweinsteiger go through the last few weeks. In early 2013, this is what the legendary striker said about his midfielder:
"He thinks about attack and defense at the same time, and is a key reason that we concede so few goals.
"Sergio Busquets is one fabulous player, and in my view Bastian shares with him the status of the world's best midfielder.
"In today's football you need to play intelligently and combine effectively in tight spaces. Schweinsteiger can do all that."
"That's what makes him priceless."
Bayern went on to conquer everything; in the Bundesliga, Schweinsteiger's cheeky backheel against Eintracht Frankfurt handed him the trophy extremely early. Schweinsteiger initiated the attack in the final part of the Champions League final, when Bayern seemed determined to win it. He ran and ran and ran and he saw Bayern crowned.
Although it was Robben's day for redemption, it was a date with destiny for Schweinsteiger, the man who wished the ground would open up and swallow him a year ago. His contributions to Bayern saw him crowned Footballer of the Year in Germany in 2013. While some took the announcement as a surprise, it really was not; the award was an appreciation of what he had done down the years.
2013/14 was injury filled for him; he made only 23 appearances in the league. But, he still had something left in the tank. He dragged Germany through the World Cup and was the man who stood tall in the face of every Argentina attack in the final. Lionel Messi could not and would not get past him that evening. He stayed on through pain and he finally put his hands on the golden trophy. Bastian Schweinsteiger had won the biggest prize in the game.
And finally, 2014/15 was rather forgettable for him. He could not reach the heights he had previously reached although he scored the goal which clinched the Bundesliga title for Bayern again, this time against Hertha Berlin. He seemed tired and could not pull Bayern through too many games any more. But Schweinsteiger could stay if he wanted. He chose to move of his own accord.
Although reluctant, Bayern let him go. When he first walked through the doors of the club, he was an immature teenager who liked breaking speed limits as well as dying his hair but was not the biggest fan of defending. Now, he is leaving as a world class midfielder and a legend. He gave Bayern everything he had and Bayern did not turn him away when he needed them. It was a relationship that worked. And it is a relationship which will never end even when Basti steps on to Old Trafford, not donning the red of Bayern, but donning the red of Manchester United.
*Thanks to Sky Sports, The Guardian, FY!BastianSchweinsteiger, Spiegel Online (1), Spiegel Online (2), UEFA's official website, Wikipedia and FIFA's official website