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To be beloved by a fan base is one thing, to be worshiped is another. Such was, and indeed still is Bastian Schweinsteiger’s stock in Bavaria. The German maestro has fit seamlessly into his role at Manchester United further reinforcing his class. Cabral Opiyo looks at just what makes the Machiavellian Prince close to divine.
It had to be under the sweltering Rio de Janeiro heat in the Maracana with nerves frayed to a twang, hearts in mouth and tension gripping every single body in that soulful old stadium that Bastian Schweinsteiger was defined most clearly as a man and as a player. Bloodied, bandaged, cramped he was at the wars and spectacularly looked like a doped up Tutankhamun running around upending Argentina players when need dictated, such as his yellow card suffered in the twenty ninth minute for clattering into Ezequiel Lavezzi. He was not in a jolly let’s-have-tea-in the-garden mood, he was zipping around the pitch with absolutely no anxiety and even when Germany faltered, he was often the last bastion of defense. Being man of the match on the biggest stage of all was typical of the man many in Bavaria had christened ‘football God’, a term reserved only for the most charismatic and enigmatic players- indeed the only players that come to mind are Matt Le God Tissier, the king of the Dell and the original Eric Cantona, impressive company.
“A prince never lacks legitimate reason to break his promise” – Niccolo Machiavelli
In Bavaria he is beloved, adored and even worshiped. He has managed to create a cult like, frenzied following that has culminated in his status as an inductee into the pantheon of the greatest German players who have defined an era alongside the likes of Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme and Franz Beckenbauer. Long considered as the nearly men of Bavaria alongside Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose they were in danger of falling into disrepute and being cast aside by history and Europe as the men who escorted the bride to the altar all the time but never snagged a wife of their own. That is until they had a ground breaking season in 2013 when they did the Treble and annihilated every team that dared cross swords with them. Bastian was colossal that season being the brain of the frighteningly dominant team.
A converted wide man, he still retains the cunning mastered from his days on the wing but in central midfield he is a sight to behold. When Louis Van Gaal’s eccentricities led him to change a great but unspectacular wing wanderer first into a box to box midfield devastation and then further adapted into the deep lying nucleus of the team, it might have been the best thing he ever did for Bayern Munich alongside promoting David Alaba and Thomas Muller. He took to the role like he was made for it, like Captain Jack Sparrow to an enigmatic mystery. He thrived in his new found role till the tactician that is Pep Guardiola rolled into town and like the sheriff he is, did not hesitate to cock his gun and let everyone know there was a new club order. While he did not obviously alienate Bastian Schweinsteiger neither did he unconditionally make it known that the now more calculated midfield tornado was indispensable to him. The first invisible shot was fired when Philipp Lahm and David Alaba were tested in the Schweinsteiger role, a lair that was previously reserved for him before his niggling injuries stopped becoming unnecessary bothers and instead became actual concerns to the decision makers at Sabener Strasse. When Thiago Alcantara and Xabi Alonso washed up ashore the ever perceptive Schweinsteiger saw the signs of the times and heard the chiming of his life span clock.
See the thing about Bastian Schweinsteiger is that he knew how to read human beings perhaps even better than he knew how to kick a ball. He saw the body language of the coaches and there were whispers that ever the perfectionist Herr Guardiola saw a fault in the previously flawless German midfield machine’s game. Apparently he was not the cerebral presence he wished for his engine room, he moved the ball a tad slower than Guardiola would have liked and slowed down the whizz pizz football that he so craved. Contingencies were made to deal with his continued prolonged absences, Joshua Kimmich was sought and integrated, the midfield ping pong Sebastian Rode was already at the club and the Busquets-like Xabi Alonso was already installed at the base of midfield to dictate play and he was doing so splendidly. He was still played when fit, but over the years his influence on the pitch was reduced and Bayern Munich found out that they could win without him, convincingly even. Most iconic footballers outlast their usefulness in the clubs that they’ve served for years and the once adoring fans on the terraces that used to sing their names start grimacing whenever their names appeared on the team sheet. Granted Bastian was nowhere near that level but he felt that he needed a new scenery after conquering the world and winning all there is to be won bar the European Championship. Bags packed, heartfelt thanks to the fans who were seemingly the only shocked party at this swift transaction, they knew it in the deepest recesses of their souls that he was going to up and leave. They just never thought they’d be alive to witness it.
On the other hand there were plenty of mightily delighted Manchester United fans who were getting a genuine marquee signing though outside of the club and its fans, it was portrayed as a huge gamble and settling for Bayern Munich’s damaged goods, not that United fans cared. They had long craved a domineering midfield general since what’s his name had been unceremoniously ushered out of the club; they had long sought a calm head since Paul Scholes had slunk off into the twilight without much fuss. They had long wished for Bastian Schweinsteiger having made eyes at him in 2010 and flirted unashamedly throughout the summer, they were getting a certified Football God resplendent in all his glory. Though mocked throughout the land, he was a genuine world class star brought in by his de facto god father to implement his systematic and at times maniacal methodology to football games.
He has quarter backed impressively for United and the minute he steps on the pitch it is as if the principal bespectacled, haughty and feared had walked into a melee on the play ground and everything quietens and calms down and everyone stops brawling and lines up properly. He has induced such a forceful state of order to every game he has played for United and his team mates all seem to sober up and regain their focus when he enters the fray.
He is a wily old fox that one, when an Eindhoven midfielder thought he had cornered Bastian and even I as a fan thought he possibly could not extricate himself from such a jumble of legs and pressing bodies he swiveled this way and that and created such huge space for himself to play the ball I not only stopped questioning his abilities, it was blasphemous to even contemplate it. When he has been partnered with Carrick, United have played fluent and fluid football and it’s like Siamese twins reunited and their combined cerebral power is clear to see in the philosophy that Louis Van Gaal has so stressed. If he could have eleven Carricks and Schweinsteigers he would get rid of all the other players pronto.
He has gathered all the bag of tricks handed down to him by the master of the midfield dark arts himself Mark Van Bommel and allied them to his natural born charisma and acquired passing ability to create the perfect prototype of the modern midfielder. He makes smart fouls, clatters into stubborn opponents, narrows the passing angles of the opponent and widens his passing options, pings absolutely worldly passes and unleashes a humdinger of a shot. What he has done best so far in Manchester though is offer a quiet authority and leadership on and off the pitch. When he is on the pitch, the younger players feel safe and they flourish constantly being encouraged by the charismatic German. During games you would mistake him for the Captain because of the way he directs midfield traffic and instructs his mates on where to play the ball, at the end of the game he has his arms around the shoulders of the younger players congratulating and encouraging them.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is far from a deity, if anything he is only compared to a deity due to his nonchalance and that air of royalty that surrounds him, that aura of invincibility and you can’t touch me glare that he fixes on opponents. Suddenly there was a footballer that would make opponents quake in their boots and induce an air of inevitability to the final result when they lined up in the tunnel and saw the straight backed magnificence that is Bastian Schweinsteiger staring ahead, focused as if in another world, another time, another realm, a different odyssey. The plane of the gods, fussballgott.
Written by Cabral Opiyo