Bayern Munich midfield maestro Bastian Schweinsteiger finally retired in 2019 after a spell with Chicago Fire. bundesliga.com takes a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves of the impact the former Germany captain and 2014 FIFA World Cup winner made.
Seventeen years at Bayern, thirteen seasons in the Bundesliga, eight league titles, seven DFB Cup wins and the 2013 UEFA Champions League. No wonder Schweinsteiger was known as a fußballgott [football god] by Bayern fans.
Before he became a legend in his native Bavaria, the future international kicked around with his older brother Tobias, who would go on to play in the German second tier as well as for Bayern’s reserve side.
Watch: Schweinsteiger: Made in the Bundesliga!
Learning the game in Rosenheim and Oberaudorf near the Austrian border, the younger Schweinsteiger also had a talent for skiing. He often trained with – and competed against – Felix Neureuther, who would go on to represent Germany at three Winter Olympics. Shortly before his 14th birthday, though, Schweinsteiger linked up with Bayern, and skiing was no longer an option once he had signed a full-time contract with the record German champions.
“I enjoyed both sports, but then came the offer from Bayern, and I just had a gut feeling it was right,” he said later.
The teenager’s judgement was sound, and his timing was good too. In 2001 Bayern had bridged a 25-year gap to become European champions for the fourth time, and in Ottmar Hitzfeld they had a shrewd head coach who was not afraid to blood new talent.
The promising midfielder also had the perfect foil to feed off in the academy in the shape of another soon-to-be Bayern and Germany legend – Philipp Lahm. Hitzfeld handed both men their senior debuts in a Champions League game against RC Lens in November 2002, when Schweinsteiger was introduced on the left side of midfield with 14 minutes left and helped create a goal in the 3-3 draw.
The 18-year-old was handed a professional deal a month later, and Hitzfeld predicted a bright future for the academy prospect soon after watching him make his Bundesliga debut against VfB Stuttgart in December 2002.
“If he stays on track and takes on the competition within the team, I believe he can become a great player – not just in Germany but Europe wide,” Hitzfeld said. 'Schweini' made 14 league appearances in the second half of the season as Bayern won a league and cup double, and during the following campaign he became a regular starter. He operated mostly on the right side of midfield in 2003/04, tallying four goals and five assists in 26 league games.
Watch: Schweinsteiger's top 5 Bundesliga goals
That was enough to see him make his senior international debut for Germany against Hungary in June 2004, and he was part of their squad for UEFA Euro 2004 alongside fellow youngsters Lahm and Lukas Podolski. The 19-year-old impressed as a substitute in the tournament opener against the Netherlands in Porto, and – though Germany’s involvement ended at the group stage – it was clear the country had a star in the making.
"Bastian can play in various positions in midfield and he keeps to the tactics,” then-manager Rudi Völler said. “He doesn’t show that he is feeling the pressure and tension."
Boosted by his progress at international level, Schweinsteiger continued to excel for his club. Having missed out in 2003/04, Bayern roared back to win back-to-back league and cup doubles in the following two seasons.
In the summer of 2006, he helped Germany to the World Cup semi-finals on home soil, scoring twice as they beat Portugal in the third-place play-off. Over the next two years, a swiftly-improving talent began to be used in a central role a little more regularly, and he weighed in with nine assists when Bayern next won the title again in 2007/08.
Portugal were victims again in the Euro 2008 quarter-final, and Schweinsteiger scored the opening goal from the right wing in the semi-final against Turkey as well before Joachim Löw’s side lost narrowly to Spain in the final. The all-action midfielder’s statistics continued to improve the following season, but when Louis van Gaal arrived as Bayern manager in 2009/10 he was moved permanently into a deeper, central role.
“For me, moving into the middle was very important,” Schweinsteiger told FIFA.com in 2013. “Initially I developed as a central midfielder, but when I started as an amateur and in my first years as a professional I played on the wings.
“When you play there you depend on other things. In the middle you can always bring yourself into the game and try to guide it in the right direction.”
Alongside club captain Mark van Bommel – and with wing wizards Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on either side – Schweinsteiger enjoyed another hugely successful year. He secured the fifth league and cup double of his career, and also helped Bayern finish as runners-up in the 2010 Champions League.
“He had already shown his potential at an early age, but he still had to learn and mature,” his old mentor Hitzfeld told Abendzeitung in October 2010, not long after his former player flourished during Germany’s run to the World Cup semi-finals.
“Bastian has refined his technical skills and high-level game intelligence in the meantime, and has also developed further athletically. That’s becoming more and more demanded in modern football.”
Hitzfeld said the Bayern midfielder had learned a lot about leadership from watching another club legend, Oliver Kahn, and was impressed by how he was developing a knack for scoring important goals. The man who guided Borussia Dortmund to Champions League glory in 1997 also urged Schweinsteiger to stay in Bavaria.
The fans favourite committed to doing that in December 2010 using a microphone following a 3-0 win over St. Paul to tell a sold-out Allianz Arena that he had just extended his contract until 2016.
“I think that we have a really good group and my heart bleeds red,” he explained. “And for me personally it would be better to win the Champions League with Bayern Munich than with Real Madrid.”
In Germany, though, Bayern’s dominance was challenged by Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund, and van Gaal was replaced by Jupp Heynckes at the end of the season. The following campaign saw Bayern lose out to BVB in the league again and in the DFB Cup final. Schweinsteiger, who scored the winning penalty in a Champions League semi-final shootout win over Real Madrid, saw a possible treble turn into a trophyless season.
Bayern faced Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final, which was played on home turf in Munich. A dream turned into a nightmare as this time Schweinsteiger struck the post with a decisive spot-kick in another penalty shootout.
The Bayern lynchpin was heartbroken, but both he and the club vowed to bounce back. And after another last-four appearance with Germany at Euro 2012, he did just that. Spanish midfielder Javi Martinez was brought in to partner him in midfield and – unlike in 2011/12 – he enjoyed an injury-free run.
Schweinsteiger had seven goals – his highest return – and five assists as Bayern romped to the league title, losing only one game to leave defending champions Dortmund 25 points behind them. Late in that season, Heynckes declared that, along with Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, his midfield leader was the best player in the world in his position.
“To me, Schweinsteiger is a great strategist,” the veteran coach said. “Just as a film director has his script, he has a plan in his mind for matches.”
Bayern swept all before them in the Champions League that term, beating Juventus 4-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and Barcelona 7-0 over two legs to set up a decider with Dortmund at Wembley. It would be a case of third time lucky for Schweinsteiger, as he finally became a European champion thanks to Bayern’s 2-1 win.
Watch: Bayern Munich's historic treble-winning season in 2013!
A week later Bayern defeated Stuttgart in the DFB Cup final to complete a long-craved for treble. Not surprisingly, Schweinsteiger was named Germany’s Footballer of the Year for 2013. If that year was the high point for Schweinsteiger at club level, the following year marked the pinnacle of his international career. He went into the 2014 World Cup having passed the 100-cap mark for Germany, and after picking up another league and cup double with Bayern.
He was also nursing a knee problem, but battled through the pain to become a world champion. Having starred in the 7-1 win over host country Brazil in the semi-final, the 29-year-old was immense in the final against Argentina. He finished battered, bloodied and bruised but willed his team over the line – with help, of course, from Mario Götze’s extra-time winner.
Schweinsteiger later revealed he was in tears even before the end of the game, thinking about all he had sacrificed to reach that point.
“You know, when you have the chance to be in the final of the World Cup – it only happened once to me – you have to take it,” he told Chicago-Fire.com several years later.
Lahm lifted the trophy before retiring from international football, and Schweinsteiger was named as Germany captain to replace him. Injuries were beginning to take their toll, though, and soon it would be time for the charismatic player to make one of the hardest decisions of his career.
Following 500 appearances for Bayern, Schweinsteiger left Munich for Manchester United in 2015. He scored in his final game for the German club, bringing his final tally to 45 goals and 69 assists in 342 Bundesliga matches.
“He is not someone that ever folds,” Lahm told The Sunday Times soon after his Schweinsteiger’s departure. “Pressure, finals, title games – that is when he is best.”
The man who scored 24 goals in 121 games for Germany did return the Allianz Arena for a testimonial game in 2018, playing a half each for Bayern and Chicago Fire before scoring a goal for his first love late on.
“I am one of you and I will always be,” he told Bayern supporters after the game.