Bastian Schweinsteiger: Germany’s heartbeat
Joachim Löw’s new look Germany may be lauded for its youthful vigour and feared for its seemingly unstoppable production line, but few know the value of one or two stabilising, experienced individuals as well as he does. His hitherto unshakeable faith in the likes of Cacau and Simon Rolfes has only just been dislodged, while Tim Wiese retains his place as tournament goalkeeper number two, despite the impressive rise of Ron Robert Zieler and Marc Andre ter Stegen.
The Germany coach, then, will have been more delighted than anyone on receiving confirmation this week that Bastian Schweinsteiger is fit to play. At only 27, the Bayern midfielder is already a semi-veteran; the heartbeat of a side which boasts more than one or two world class individuals.
Schweinsteiger, who had been struggling with a calf strain since the Champions League Final, was confirmed by team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller Wohlfahrt and his colleagues to have returned to full fitness, with just days to spare before Germany’s opening match against Portugal on Saturday.
It is a development which has sent a tangible wave of relief through the German media. As Bild put it, somewhat bluntly: “Breathe out! Basti is fit!”
On paper, Germany’s vice captain is far from irreplaceable. Both Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos play in defensive midfield for their clubs, and neither lack Schweinsteiger’s attacking capabilities. In practice, however, his absence would have been a psychological blow comparable to Spain losing Carles Puyol and England’s need to do without Wayne Rooney.
His penalty against Chelsea aside, Schweinsteiger’s influence has proven invaluable for his club in the last few years. His absence through injury in the middle of the season was widely seen as a turning point in Bayern’s ultimately disappointing domestic campaign, and it was no coincidence that their return to form in the early months of this year coincided with his return. Gone is the mischievous, controversial young “Schweini” who used to exasperate his coaches. The new Basti is a mature, controlling presence at the centre of two of the world’s best football teams.
It is this presence in the middle of the pitch which Germany will be so pleased to have at their disposal. While friendlies have never been the best gauge of how Löw’s team perform in a major tournament, the lack of midfield authority against Switzerland was both revealing and costly.
Other experienced players, such as Miroslav Klose, will play an integral role this summer, but it is Schweinsteiger that Germany will look to in times of trouble. He has assumed the role of national hero earlier than most, and he bears the responsibility with the same controlled maturity that he shows on the football pitch.
I am often told that Schweinsteiger is the most German man alive, for the phonetics of his name (which, incidentally, directly translates as “pig rearer”) and the blondness of his hair. The ability to hold his nerve, though, is perhaps one of the happier Teutonic stereotypes that “Basti” fulfils. When describing his emotions as he walked up to take the winning penalty against Real Madrid in April, he said: “As I was walking up, I could feel myself losing my balls. Thankfully, I got them back again just in time.”
Thankfully indeed. Germany will be hoping that, in the course of the next few weeks, he does not find himself losing them again.Tagged in: Bastian Schweinsteiger, euro 2012, european championships, germany, Joachim Löw
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