Football 'god' Schweini wants to make United No. 1

LONDON • After coming back from the World Cup, it was a joke Bastian Schweinsteiger liked cracking to the staff at Bayern Munich's training ground.

"Have you seen they're making another Rambo film?" he would say. "It's about me at the Maracana."

Schweinsteiger was knocked to the turf seven times by Argentina during last year's World Cup final in Rio. An elbow from Sergio Aguero left him with a gaping wound and a gush of blood under his right eye.

And yet the Argentinians, even if they had chainsaws and bulldozers, were never going to quell him.


Germany's captain Bastian Schweinsteiger raising the trophy after his team beat Argentina in the World Cup final in Brazil. His personality and style are set to make him a good fit for Manchester United. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

For two hours, he dominated the midfield, picking himself up every time the opposition flattened him. He was the biggest single influence behind Germany's 1-0 win. It was the game of his career. It was also a game that changed it.

Nagged by a knee problem throughout the tournament, Schweinsteiger broke down with the same injury when he was fouled after nine minutes of his next match, for Bayern Munich against MLS All Stars on a US tour in early August.

He did not come back until late November and was injured again. Last term, Schweinsteiger started only 15 Bundesliga games, the fewest in his 12 seasons at Bayern.

So, Manchester United are getting a player who, approaching 31, has been through the wars and not yet shown he has fully recovered from his Maracana battle royale.

But they are also getting a great, for there is no other word to describe Schweinsteiger. He has been a leader, a fighter, a maestro, in exactly the position where United have long needed reinforcing.

At his best, Schweinsteiger has played with a bit of Roy Keane mixed with a bit of Paul Scholes in his game. If his body holds up, United could finally replace two irreplaceable players in one swoop.

"Basti has two big goals. One is to lead Germany to victory at Euro 2016, the other is to take Manchester United back to the top," said a friend. "Even if he only has one more great season, his determination will make him do it. He'll leave Manchester also a fussballgott."

This means football god and is a reference to Schweinsteiger's standing among Bayern fans.

At the Allianz Arena, when the home players are announced, as soon as they hear "Number 31" they bellow back "Bastian Schweinsteiger. Fussballgott!"

Schweinsteiger is a Bavarian whose bonds at Bayern, where he has been in the first team since 18, make him a local hero the way Steven Gerrard was at Liverpool.

He experienced a "big fight of emotions" before deciding it was time to leave. And yet he is still following his heart. His boyhood hero was Eric Cantona and he said in 2010: "What I love is the atmosphere in English stadiums. When we played last year in Manchester it was fantastic. My brother is a big fan of Man U and he always says, 'Go to Man U, go to Man U.' I love the speed of the English game."

Alex Ferguson coveted him then but he was too important to Bayern, seen as their key player by Louis van Gaal, who revolutionised the player's career by moving him from the right to a central position.

Perhaps only the Dutchman could have prised him out of Munich. Schweinsteiger's priority as Germany's new captain depends on his playing regular club football - last season's injuries led to Xabi Alonso replacing him as the pivot of Pep Guardiola's midfield.

Schweinsteiger is expected to cost United £14 million (S$29 million) and his three-year-deal is worth £135,000 a week.

His arrival will not end United's interest in Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin, though with Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera to consider, it may mean Daley Blind being considered more at left-back.

If all goes well at his medical, scheduled yesterday, Schweinsteiger will be on the plane when United fly to Seattle today to begin a US tour. The first few days of it will be behind closed doors, a training camp, and it is seen as ideal for getting to know new colleagues.

They will like him. Schweinsteiger speaks good English and is open, bright, not loud, a lot of fun.

His girlfriend, the tennis player Ana Ivanovic, enjoys life in England and Schweinsteiger accompanied her to this year's Wimbledon.

A clue to his personality is in his description of his captaincy style: "I don't like to speak in the group but I do a lot of one-on-ones (with team-mates). I prefer to look into the other guy's eyes."

THE SUNDAY TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Football 'god' Schweini wants to make United No. 1'. Print Edition | Subscribe