Cologne - With four games to spare, FC Bayern München's 1-0 home win against Hertha Berlin on Saturday, coupled with second-place VfL Wolfsburg's defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach a day later, put the record champions' 25th German title beyond any remaining mathematical doubt. 24 of those have been earned in the post-1963 Bundesliga era and, remarkably, has been on board for the eight most recent.
Title-winning goal, take 2
The 30-year-old Bayern vice-captain thus joins an exclusive club of eight-time winners which until now consisted only of legendary Bayern duo Oliver Kahn and Mehmet Scholl. Schweinsteiger, moreover, has seven DFB Cup victories under his belt, one more than goalkeeping great Kahn. With 15 major domestic titles to his name, he is now German football's outright record-holder in the silverware stakes.
How appropriate, then, that it was Schweinsteiger who bagged the only goal of the contest against Hertha – a crisp 80th-minute finish into the top corner following a mazy run down the flank by youngster . The moment inevitably rekindled memories, as well, of the midfielder's exquisite back-heeled strike against Eintracht Frankfurt that sealed the deal on another ahead-of-schedule title success in 2013. The two years since have been abundantly fruitful even by Schweinsteiger's prolific standards.
Within weeks of that victory over Frankfurt, Bayern had wrapped up an unprecedented treble of Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup. By the end of the calendar year, they were UEFA Supercup and FIFA Club World Cup winners as well, claiming the latter title midway through another league and cup double-winning campaign. And then came the small matter of Germany's triumphant march to victory at last summer's World Cup in Brazil, with a battered, bruised and bandage-swathed Schweinsteiger providing one of the final's most iconic images.
Now, back on the domestic stage, he and his clubmates can travel to in-form Bayer 04 Leverkusen this weekend in a duly relaxed frame of mind, having put the official seal on Bayern's fourth all-time hattrick of consecutive Bundesliga titles. Not too relaxed, however, in light of the game that follows on from that next Wednesday – against FC Barcelona, at the Camp Nou, head coach Pep Guardiola's alma mater, on UEFA Champions League semi-final business.
More unfinished business in Berlin
Having reached three of the last five finals, Bayern are now perennially tagged among the favourites to get their hands on European club football's most coveted trophy. Guardiola has not had his injury problems to seek in recent weeks, however, which makes his vice-skipper's return from a three-week lay-off with a foot injury and subsequent viral infection all the more timely. “He played like a leader,” Bayern director of sport Matthias Sammer noted after the win against Hertha; “It's important for us to have him there, with his experience, his quality and his charisma.”
Important, too, for the 109-time Germany international himself, who, despite having won pretty much everything worth winning in football, is still hungry for more. A crack at his second Champions League title would certainly provide a fitting climax to the season, with the prospect of running out at Berlin's Olympic Stadium for the final adding further piquancy to the occasion. What the future holds beyond that is “up to Basti,” Guardiola stressed. “It's up to him, only the player can decide whether he stays for another year or two, or longer. He's had some lengthy spells on the sidelines due to injury. Otherwise, there's nothing more I need to add about his qualities and his character.”
Schweinsteiger, a one-club player all his professional life, has a year left to run on his current contract. One thing can be said with certainty at this moment in time: 14 years down the line from his first title with FC Bayern, the 2001 German U-17 championship, he has no intention of this record eighth Bundesliga triumph marking the end of his unparalleled Munich trophy trail.