Football is full of romance. We’ve seen it in the FA Cup with Wimbledon’s giant killing in 1988. We saw it last season with Leicester City’s dramatic Premier League win. We’ve seen it on our own doorstep, with the return of the king Eric Cantona in 1995/96 following an nine month ban – yes, romanticism in football is still rife and full of life. Enter Bastian Schweinsteiger, a 32 year crocked midfielder who was seemingly on his way out at Manchester United under the new Jose Mourinho regime back in August. The odds were stacked against the German to be in contention for a first team spot, having last played for the club back in January 2016. However, in a year that saw Brexit and a Donald Trump victory – anything is possible these days.
Schweinsteiger made his first start for over a year in the 4-0 victory against Wigan Athletic and scored his second goal, whilst also setting up the opener, for the club as the former Bayern Munich man showcased to the watching world that he still has something to offer at Old Trafford.
For a player that has played fewer games for United than David Bellion and Eric Djemba Djemba – Schweinsteiger gets a heroes’ reception every time he strolls onto the Old Trafford turf. Sure, he isn’t Roy Keane returning from missing nearly a season out through injury, but the United faithful acknowledge a player that has achieved so much in the game, whilst appreciating that Schweinsteiger is a decent guy who was harshly treated at the beginning of the season. No professional, even if in the twilight of their career, wants to train with the reserves as they are deemed surplus to requirements. Mourinho had a call to make as commander and chief and the Portuguese obviously felt that in Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin he had enough midfield options – leaving Schweinsteiger frozen out. The decision had former German international Karl Heinz Rummenigge describing Mourinho as “lacking respect” – which then resulted in a spat between the two men.
In August it was perceived that it would be “very difficult” for Schweinsteiger to get to play for Manchester United again this season, given his predicament. The World Cup winner is reportedly paid £150,000 per week at Old Trafford – which of course, considering his injury prone time at the club, ensured that potential buyers were seriously limited as his contract isn’t set to expire until 2018. All of this for a player who hadn’t started a first team match for United since trudging off the pitch after picking up a knee injury in the dismal 1-0 FA Cup victory over Sheffield United last season.
Its quite a turnaround for Schweinsteiger to then score in front of the East stand with a acrobatic kick reminiscent of a half cut bloke in his mid-40s still showing that he can hit the back of the net in a summer kick around with the lads. United’s number 31 continued to work hard, to stay professional and to smile on his Instagram whilst wishing everyone “a great day” wearing a long coat that wouldn’t look out of place in a GQ photoshoot.
The midfielder has played in some of the most volatile stadiums in World football and amassed 121 caps for Germany over a twelve year career (which ended in September of last year). United’s squad is better off for having a player with such vast experience and with Schneiderlin now departed, Mourinho is looking at Schweinsteiger to be a part of United’s squad for the second half of the season.To feature in the top ten of the most appearances ever for Bayern Munich (currently in at 8th and soon to be overtaken by former teammate Philipp Lahm) is an outstanding achievement for a club that has produced some fine footballers over the years. Having spent thirteen years in Bayern’s first team, he has lined up alongside the likes of Michael Ballack, Mehmet Scholl and Mark van Bommel – and now he is the elder statesman passing on his vast experience to an eager generation in Pogba and Herrera.
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I have to say that the bookies offers 2017 didn’t look promising at all for Schweinsteiger playing again this season and it was unlikely that we would see him in a red shirt again. But for the only man who can fully pull of a short sleeve shirt with gloves in winter, he has proven the majority wrong – including Jose Mourinho. The United boss spoke of the fact that the squad is now depleted with the loss of Memphis Depay (who left for Lyon in the week) and Schneiderlin’s exit to Everton, which means there is an opportunity for “Basti” to make an impact. The United boss confirmed that he will be part of the Europa League squad, with United hosting former European heavyweights AS Saint-Étienne on February 16th. With United still challenging across four fronts, Schweinsteiger will be crucial.
Louis van Gaal looked to have pulled off a great signing in luring the German midfielder away from the Allianz Arena, despite the player falling down the pecking order with Pep Guardiola who opted for Xabi Alonso instead. The player, who for so long was the golden boy of German football – the early promise midway through the noughties after the embarrassing Euro 2000 exit under the guidance of Rudi Völler, knows all too well about fighting for his place and will no doubt continue to do so for the remainder of the season. Yes – the odds were stacked against him to play again. Yes – he is back in to the warmth of Old Trafford. And yes – romanticism in football continues.