Bastian Schweinsteiger, pivotal in shaping Germany’s recent success, set for a fitting farewell

Richard Jolly pays tribute to the Germany captain, who will play his final match for his country on Wednesday night.
Bastian Schweinsteiger lifts the World Cup trophy after helping Germany defeat Argentina in the 2010 final in Brazil. Andreas Gerbert / EPA
Bastian Schweinsteiger lifts the World Cup trophy after helping Germany defeat Argentina in the 2010 final in Brazil. Andreas Gerbert / EPA

At least Bastian Schweinsteiger will be afforded one fond, fitting farewell. Whenever he eventually exits Manchester United, it seems it will be via the back door and as an outcast. As he says auf Wiedersehen to Germany, it should be with tributes ringing in his ears and with the gratitude of his compatriots very apparent.

After 12 years, 120 appearances, five semi-finals and a World Cup win that cemented his case for greatness, Schweinsteiger’s Germany career concludes on Wednesday night. He will play a friendly against Finland in the Borussia-Park in Monchengladbach and then enter Germany’s past.

Such is the epic nature of his time in his country’s colours that an era ends with him. Schweinsteiger retires at 32. He debuted as a teenager. He played for Germany for so long that he was part of a genuinely unsuccessful team, the Euro 2004 side who drew with Latvia, failed to win a game and, with the exception of a spirited, talented newcomer, performed ignominiously.

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Only Lukas Podolski remains from that group. He, too, is retiring, though injury means his valedictory game will not come on Wednesday. Yet while the forward has more international caps and goals to his name than Schweinsteiger, he went from pivotal player to fringe figure in recent years. The midfielder remained pivotal.

And while, perhaps coming full circle, his days in a Germany shirt may have ended unsatisfactorily, his Euro 2016 pratfalls — the penalty blazed over the bar in the comical shootout with Italy, the spot kick he conceded in the semi-final against France — at least occurred in the latter stages of the tournament. Schweinsteiger helped restore Germany to their natural position, at the forefront of the international game.

As manager Joachim Low said of Podolski and him: “Both have shaped the national team and become world champion. That’s the greatest thing you can achieve.”

Schweinsteiger’s contribution was greater than most.

He was the outstanding player in a World Cup final, against Argentina two years ago. In football history, only 21 men can say that. Still fewer were also man of the match in the third-place match, as he was against Portugal in 2006. For a decade, he illustrated his stature on major stages.

He grew up in public, effecting the transition from enfant terrible to senior citizen quickly. The loss of Michael Ballack before the 2010 World Cup rendered him, at just 25, the old head in the midfield. His character had already been apparent. He was sent off in the Euro 2008 defeat to Croatia. He returned from his ban to determine the quarter-final against Portugal. He proved remarkably productive, averaging a goal every five games from midfield, and very durable until injuries reduced his mobility.

With the benefit of hindsight, retiring in the Maracana after winning the World Cup would have made the perfect ending. It was how Philipp Lahm, his long-time colleague for Bayern Munich and Germany, took his leave. Instead, Schweinsteiger inherited the captain’s armband. An ambition to play on and become a European champion was understandable, if ultimately out of reach.

But at least Schweinsteiger goes of his own volition. Germany seemed starved of talent when he debuted. Now they have a conveyor belt of gifted young midfielders. He has spared Low a difficult decision. A man who has commanded the attention will now fade into the shadows, perhaps only emerging to make the supportive social media posts that may well irritate Jose Mourinho.

Because this could be Schweinsteiger’s last appearance until 2017. He has stated he will not play for another side in Europe and the United manager has declared that five central midfielders rank ahead of him and that, even if injuries rule them out, he would rather pick youngsters. Such treatment outraged men like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Ottmar Hitzfeld, the great and good of German football. This is his compatriots’ chance to stage a more suitable goodbye.

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Published: August 30, 2016 04:00 AM

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