Bastian Schweinsteiger isn’t the first Bayern Munich midfielder to be linked with a move to Manchester United this summer.
The back end of last season saw a level of uncertainty raised about Toni Kroos’ future with the Bavarians that United were looking to capitalise on. The 24-year-old has been a regular in the Bayern team over the last two years, winning the treble under Jupp Heynckes and the domestic double with Pep Guardiola. Kroos’ contributions, talent, links to the club’s academy, and potential to be a future leader within the team – despite his overly relaxed nature – looked to merit a pay increase to match the other top earners with the club.
Similarly to Kroos, Schweinsteiger’s future isn’t clear-cut, but for entirely different reasons. Schweinsteiger’s hero-status with the club’s supporters is undoubted. His maturing into one of the best midfielders in Europe since moving into the centre of the pitch from inconsistent and at times underwhelming performances on the flank has been evident; he’s been an integral part of Bayern’s successes over the years since Louis van Gaal re-positioned him to the centre. Schweinsteiger has been to three European Cup finals and won three Bundesliga titles since 2010. He’s 29, often seen as a more vocal leader than Philipp Lahm and someone whose talent in various roles in the midfield would see him walk into most teams in Europe.
But reports are indicating that Pep Guardiola isn’t completely at ease with Schweinsteiger in his starting XI. The German international can play the holding role, dictate play in the middle of the park or push further forward to have an influence nearer the opposition goal. But Bayern have three players who do each of those jobs as well, if not better, than Schweinsteiger, in Javi Martinez, Kroos and Thiago Alcantara. It’s not to say Schweinsteiger isn’t valued, it’s simply that he has been singled out as one of the few who have struggled to adapt to Guardiola’s system; not quite the full-blown tiki-taka of his Barcelona days, but a variation of it.
Schweinsteiger is said to slow the game down and make Bayern’s attacks too predictable – which was a problem in their defeat in both legs of the Champions League semi-final to Real Madrid.
In the past with Heynckes in charge, Bayern would steamroll opponents. The midfield duo of Martinez and Schweinsteiger was the best in Europe at the time. Criticism of Guardiola was in his deviation – in personnel and formation – from that, breaking up an effective partnership in order to accommodate Lahm in the midfield and reach for greater possession above all else.
Guardiola is said to be in the market for another midfielder this summer, another to go along with the acquisitions of Thiago and Mario Goetze last summer, which would then pave the way for one from the current squad to depart.
While it’s extremely difficult to rationalise the sale of either Schweinsteiger or Kroos, the latter makes more sense, especially now with Real Madrid said to be interested.
Kroos’ contract is up next season, which means he can either leverage a new, higher-paid deal with the Bavarians, or run down his contract and earn something in excess of what Bayern would be willing to pay.
As for Schweinsteiger, he may be 29 but his sale would force the loss of a level of leadership that Kroos may never acquire. It goes without saying what it would mean for the club to lose someone who is already considered a legend among supporters, and Guardiola would be doing himself no favours by giving the green light on such a deal.
But there are drawbacks to Schweinsteiger’s game that could ease a potential sale to Manchester United. Adaptability aside, Schweinsteiger has struggled with injuries over the past two years, to such an extent that doubts have emerged as to whether he’ll ever been the ever-present in the team he once was. He’s yet to hit his thirtieth birthday, but there may be an argument to say he’s already peaked as a player.
That shouldn’t be enough to facilitate a sale, though. Even with injury problems this season, Schweinsteiger still started 22 games for Bayern. He’s an influential figure in the dressing room and on the pitch, certainly, but the team have such a wealth of midfield talent that they can afford to comfortably get by without the club vice-captain.
If reports are to be believed that Toni Kroos is in advanced negotiations with Real Madrid, then there should be no further contemplation of a sale for Schweinsteiger. There can be no excuse for the self-inflicted wound of selling two high-profile academy players in one go.
Louis van Gaal would of course relish the prospect of pairing up with Schweinsteiger again, especially as it was the Dutchman who set the midfielder on a different path that led to such glory and prestige. But letting go of a celebrated figure like Schweinsteiger simply doesn’t make sense for a club who put so much importance into looking after and retaining their own.