Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived at Manchester United from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2015 amid plenty of promise.
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He leaves with plenty of question marks surrounding his time in the Premier League and has spent close to 12 months in the shadows.
Schweinsteiger, 32, signed for the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer on Tuesday on a one-year deal as he brought an end to his disappointing 18 months at Old Trafford.
The German World Cup winner was signed by former United boss Louis Van Gaal and became somewhat of a scapegoat of LVG’s second season in charge which saw the Red Devils turn into a predictable, laborious team to watch as they failed to break teams down and finished fifth in the Premier League.
Nursing numerous injuries, Schweinsteiger played 31 times in his only full season at United and appeared just 18 times in the Premier League. He did win an FA Cup under Van Gaal last season but it appeared that when Jose Mourinho arrived in the summer, along with Paul Pogba, that Schweinsteiger’s big wages were not welcome at Old Trafford.
Forced to train with the reserves and left out of action until Nov. 30, 2016, Schweinsteiger got his head down and worked hard in training as many former teammates lambasted the way he was treated by Mourinho and his staff and was shown a lack of respect.
Yet, perhaps due to the humility he showed when cast outside ruthlessly by Mourinho, United’s fans took to him in recent months and cheered his every touch whenever he made brief one of his fourth brief appearances off the bench.
Schweinsteiger was greeted with many well wishes from fellow United players when news of his move to Chicago Fire was confirmed, hammering home his popularity among the squad.
With 18 months of pretty much treading water at United, Schweinsteiger is now ready to kick-start the final stage of his career.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always sought opportunities where I hoped to make a positive impact and to help make something great. My move to Chicago Fire is no different,” Schweinsteiger said. “Through my conversations with Nelson and Pauno, I’m convinced by the club’s vision and philosophy and I want to help them with this project.”
Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic explained where Schweinsteiger will fit into Chicago’s project.
“Having the strongest possible midfield is essential for how we want to play,” Paunovic said. “We see Bastian helping our organization of the attack, and impacting the final third build-up with his vision and creativity to produce the final pass, as well as his capacity to score goals. His versatility on the field, and his immense experience at the highest levels of this sport will be a great benefit to our team.”
So, Schweinsteiger will be given a free role as a No. 10. In his early days he thrived in a central or wide attacking midfield role for Bayern Munich and Germany. Yet, since the 2009-10 season he’s been deployed as a deep-lying playmaker for club and country and that’s worked out well.
Not blessed with outstanding pace, Schweinsteiger’s vision and range of passing mean this free role could suit him well. With Chicago’s duo of Dax McCarty and Juninho in defensive midfield, they could feed the ball to Schweinsteiger and let him do some damage in and around the box. All three are far from spring chickens, but it may just work…
In the Premier League Schweinsteiger’s physicality was a problem, especially defensively, and Mourinho suggested that was the main reason the former captain of the German national team was ostracized from the first team squad.
We all know MLS comes with its own challenges for ageing players and many adapt differently to the pace and power of the league.
Case in point: Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard all endured (and in Pirlo’s case, enduring) a tough time on turf pitches and came up against younger, hungry midfielders and were placed in teams were perhaps other attacking players weren’t quite on the same wavelength when it came to making runs and finishing chances. Then you look at Robbie Keane, Didier Drogba and David Villa, and those more attack-minded players have flourished regardless of their age.
Maybe playing Schweinsteiger further forward will be a masterstroke from Paunovic. Still, many in the MLS community are skeptical about bringing in a player who is far from match fit on a Designated Player deal.
We know Schweinsteiger is still a big name in world soccer and commercially this deal will be a hit for a huge media market in the U.S. but it does go against the new wave of young DP signings we’ve seen work so well at Atlanta United, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and other MLS clubs over the past few months.
Schweinsteiger will have to overcome all of these challenges in a Chicago side which is desperate to make a charge this season and make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Yet, wherever he has been he seems to have overcome the doubters and prove everyone wrong.
With his nightmare at Manchester United over, Schweinsteiger seems ready to make up for lost time.