It has been a long journey to Old Trafford. Bastian Schweinsteiger, as an impetuous youngster, made his Bundesliga debut in late 2002 and quickly became a beacon of hope for the team – at Bayern and in the German national set-up.
Six months later, the then 18-year-old celebrated his first of eight German championships, another year and he had his first international cap. When Germany were embarrassingly knocked out in the preliminaries of the Euro 2004 tournament, Schweinsteiger was one of the few bright spots for the nation.
Who was this shooting star of fans and media? Often called Sebastian (instead of Bastian), which led to protests by his father, a sports shop owner in the Bavarian Oberland, he was finding recognition. He quickly made his name in Germany and internationally at the Confederations Cup in 2005 and more impressively at the home World Cup in 2006.
Even so, many foreigners still found his last name difficult to pronounce. Even Pele, who called him: “The boy who is just like a whiskey brand Swines Tiger…”
However, “Schweinsteiger”, as he is called at home and still is today… almost missed the next step up. His former coach, Felix Magath, wanted him to go to the Premier League, and had a contract with Newcastle United that was close to signature. He didn’t.
Strong games alternated with weak performances, which earned Schweinsteiger strong public criticism from his father-figure at Bayern, Uli Hoeness. “There has been too much powdered sugar blown in the butt,” he once scolded.
It was Louis van Gaal who turned Schweinsteiger into a world class player in the 2009/10 Champions League final, when he threw him into the defensive central midfield role. Here his strengths came into their own: his overview of the game, accurate passing, willingness to run, ball-winning ability, and his goal threat.
After winning the double and the entry into the Champions League final, he was the great driver of the young German team which reached the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, losing to the eventual champions Spain.
However, the level of Schweinsteiger’s game is dependent on his own fitness, and the year afterwards showed this. The physically troubled midfielder could not prevent Borussia Dortmund, at least for two years, taking over at the top of German football, and at Euro 2012 he looked to be chasing his own form.
And FC Bayern’s star had experienced probably the most bitter hour of his career, when he failed in the Champions League final against Chelsea in his home arena Munich with the chance of scoring the winning penalty against Petr Cech.
But Schweinsteiger pulled his head out of the swamp and was back to being one of the driving forces of his team in the victory against Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley, and the following year of Bayern’s historic triple trophy winning campaign.
However, he paid dearly for the success and was forced into two operations on his ankle in February 2014 and then again in the immediate preparation for the World Cup. In Brazil it wasn’t until the last group match that he made it into the starting lineup, but then the scene was set.
And in the Rio final Schweinsteiger helped himself to a dramatic share of the world championship; the image of the blood on the face Germany’s leader, wounded after numerous Argentine attacks, was beamed around the world.
Last year Schweinsteiger, like many of his DFB teammates, was in post-World Cup depression and was again sidelined for several months with a knee injury. At the end of the season he played his 500th competitive match for Bayern, saying goodbye with a worthy goal and the subsequent championship celebration.
He probably already knew at that time that it would be his last match in Munich under the critical Pep Guardiola and where he was finding it increasingly difficult to get a regular place in the team. The move to Manchester United makes sense for the player as well as for Bayern, though there has been much criticism for the loss of a club idol.
There remains the question of whether United or Schweinsteiger will benefit the most from the move. The support of his mentor Van Gaal seems safe, but there are doubts as to whether he can bring his aging body again to perform the necessary in the Premier League.
Martin Volkmar is a member of the Editorial Board of leading German sports channel SPORT1 and Head of the Online Desk (www.sport1.de). He has covered, among others, two World cups, two European Championships and four Champions League finals.