Three qualities Bastian Schweinsteiger will bring to Man United
Paul McNamara takes a look at three things Bastian Schweinsteiger will bring to his new club, Manchester United
It seems odd to talk of a club with 13 Premier League titles to its name, since the inception of this version of England’s top-flight in 1992, being in desperate need of players who know how to win. This is the predicament that the modern day Manchester United finds itself in, however. Not to mention the fact that Louis van Gaal’s side is crying out for authentically world-class midfielders. Bastian Schweinsteiger ticks both boxes. There will be a few doubters, eyeing the German’s birth certificate as evidence that the needle on his petrol gauge is steadily ticking towards its bottom point. And, for a midfielder who relies so heavily on his remarkable reserves of energy to impose his all-action style on football matches, running on empty is not an option. To answer that particular concern, one only needs to look back as far as the World Cup final, played one year ago this week. On the world game’s premier platform, Schweinsteiger was the outstanding player. The 30-year-old influenced every aspect of the 120 minutes of action, as Germany finally overcame Argentina to win that country’s first World Cup since 1990. Schweinsteiger, winner of eight Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, does suffer for his combative approach. He didn’t appear for Pep Guardiola’s team until November last season due to the latest in a succession of knee problems. When fit, though, the German national team captain remained a forceful presence for his club side, even with Guardiola steadily instigating a changing of the guard at the Allianz Arena. Bayern’s Spanish manager, while being renowned for sending out teams full of flair and imagination, is welded to a disciplined framework. In that respect, Schweinsteiger, something of an off-the-cuff operator, doesn’t fit seamlessly into a Guardiola unit. Nevertheless, when the ex-Barcelona boss had his talismanic midfielder available for selection, he couldn’t resist turning to his competitive instincts. Schweinsteiger’s standout traits: his dynamism, spirit and fierce will to win, will all prove vital in United’s quest to return to the pinnacle of English football. The Red Devils’s fall from their perch has been staggeringly swift – they lifted the Premier League title as recently as two years ago. They are now seeking to scale the mountain, back to their former peak, just as rapidly as they slipped down its face. For that reason, Van Gaal has the leeway, not afforded to any of his immediate predecessors, to take a short-term view in some areas of his recruitment. What’s more, the manager himself is only tied to Old Trafford for a further two years. A serial winner, Van Gaal is not in the north-west with the intention of leaving behind a group of players that will bring home the bacon for whoever follows in his stead. That isn’t to say that the Dutchman is neglecting the future, altogether. There is a nod towards building a United dynasty in the captures of the likes of Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian and, last year, Ander Herrera. Schweinsteiger, however, brings off-the-shelf knowhow; the wisdom that comes with being a Champions League winner in 2013, an achievement to sit snugly alongside the domestic and international glory that has marked his distinguished career, to date.
Roy Keane left United nearly a decade ago. When the Irishman swapped Old Trafford for Celtic Park in December 2005, he had become a husk of the midfielder who, at his domineering, bullying best, inspired his team to a formidable collection of trophies in the mid-to-late nineties and early noughties; the last truly formidable central midfielder to play in United colours. Finally, in Schweinsteiger, the three-time European champions have a man to take over Keane’s mantle. In an age when footballers are venerated far too readily, United’s new man is worthy of the loftiest praise. Schweinsteiger is a great player. There have already been some concerns expressed as to how the German will knit together with Michael Carrick, given Guardiola’s difficulties in bedding Schweinsteiger into the same engine room unit as Xabi Alosno, a deep-lying, probing midfielder, in the same vein as United’s former Tottenham player. Jupp Heynckes, in charge at Munich for a third time between 2011 and 2013, asserted his belief two years ago that Schweinsteiger was the best midfield operator on the planet. That is the calibre of player that United are recruiting. This is not a man who will struggle to adapt to his team’s requirements. The veteran German manager will also be well aware of his former charge’s resolve. Schweinsteiger is walking into an institution that demands success – but one which hasn’t met the standards expected of it in recent years. And despite the assortment of honours he amassed in his time in Bavaria, things didn’t always come easy for the current Germany skipper and his club mates. Failure against Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final on their home turf came amidst a pretty grim time for Bayern. FC Hollywood, as they have been christened in their homeland, were beaten into second place in that year’s Bundesliga by Borussia Dortmund, as well as being on the end of a 5-2 thumping by the same opponents in the domestic cup final. To put the tin hat on a miserable summer, Schweinsteiger and his international colleagues suffered semi-final defeat at the hands of Italy in the European Championship finals. Rather than indulging in a prolonged bout of navel-gazing, and with Schweinsteiger in the thick of their efforts, that forlorn group of players re-energised, spectacularly. Bayern Munich were 2013 treble winners and, 12 months on, Germany became world champions. If United are to complete their own recovery, by ending up top of the pile at the end of the forthcoming Premier League campaign, then they will have to overcome Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. All three of those sides boast power and ingenuity in the middle of the park, well in advance of what is offered in those respects by United’s current complement of midfielders. Indeed, the twin-addition to Chelsea’s ranks of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas went a long way towards turning Jose Mourinho’s Blues from 2014 title outsiders to 2015 Premier League champions. Schweinsteiger offers the best of both of those players in one package. The German has all of Matic’s defensive savvy and stature, while having a passing range that, if not quite the equal of Fabregas’s, will provide United’s front-runners with the sort of reliable service that they are consistently denied – unless Carrick is fit and in the grove. Furthermore, expect the Red Devils’ ball-retention, a problematic issue going back to Sir Alex Ferguson’s latter years at Old Trafford, to improve with Schweinsteiger pulling the strings.
Statement of Intent
Undeniably one of the most famous football clubs on the planet and, by any calculation, the largest in this country, United shouldn’t need to remind anybody of their eminent status. This is a club that every footballer in Europe should hope to play for. Right now, though, Chelsea are the number one team in England. Manchester City’s financial clout and burgeoning reputation make them a rival in the transfer market. Arsenal, meanwhile, can be viewed as a coming force, with money to spend and the lure to foreign stars of their attractive London location. By enticing Schweinsteiger to Old Trafford, United are sending out a message that a couple of stodgy seasons aren’t going to be allowed to have a negative impact on their monolithic standing. The recruitment of a player from one of the only clubs on the continent that can consider itself to belong in the same elite category as United is proof that the Red Devils are still right in the mix with Europe’s best. Signing Schweinsteiger will also alter the perceptions of other Van Gaal targets. The main problem with trying to buy the world’s premier footballers, of course, is that these players’ services are being fought over by the game’s giant clubs. Now, if a prospective United purchase is weighing a move to Old Trafford up against a switch to, say, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain, he has plenty to mull over. United will always offer the opportunity to play for a predominantly winning team, in front of 75,000 supporters at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – as well as a hefty wage. Today, they are the club that has just bought Bastian Schweinsteiger, one of the best players at Bayern Munich over the last decade and man-of-the-match in the most recent World Cup final. It is the type of deal that might just persuade Sergio Ramos that he would like to join the Van Gaal revolution. Whether it’s enough to convince David de Gea that he should stay where he is, remains to be seen. If United do need to replace their Spanish goalkeeper, however, they have just made themselves an even more tempting proposition for any first-rate number one.