Three transfers concluded, how many more to come this summer? Manchester United’s confirmation that Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is to join from Bayern Munich adds to a growing sense of momentum at Old Trafford. The player may be creeping towards his 30s, but Schweinsteiger is legitimately one of the world’s finest central midfielders – and his capture no less than a significant coup for Louis van Gaal. The acquisition is one more piece in what could be a very profitable summer for the club.
Indeed, if any doubts remain about Schweinsteiger’s suitability for United, then apprehension should be quelled by Jamie Carragher’s assertion that the 30-year-old is now “past his best.” There is nothing quite like the stench of Scouse desperation to validate United’s trajectory, even if the former Liverpool defender later claimed his comment was made in jest.
Schweinsteiger, who joins on a three-year deal worth more than £140,000-per-week, will add vast experience and big-game nous to Van Gaal’s team. And while the midfielder’s injury record is patchy since Pep Guardiola join the Bavarians in 2013, Schweinsteiger has played more than 70 games for club and country over the past two season. United’s latest acquisition is a short-term move, perhaps, but one for a player who should ensure Van Gaal’s midfield is competitive with almost any on the continent.
While the predictable partisan debate raged in social media in England, over in the Motherland the player’s colleagues were quick to praise the man who will lead his nation at Euro 2016. After making more than 500 appearances for the club, Bayern was seemingly willing to let the player dictate his own future.
“Bastian wants to do something new at the end of his career,” said Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “He asked that we meet his wishes. My colleagues at Manchester United have been in touch. We’ve reached an agreement over a transfer. It’s regrettable because Bastian meant a great deal to the club. He achieved great things.”
Meanwhile, Germany manager Joachim Löw, described United’s new acquisition as “an absolute leader and world class player who can put his stamp on any team.”
Schweinsteiger will be the first German to play for United’s first team when he makes his Old Trafford debut in August and will add genuine leadership and tactical nous to a team that has lacked both in recent campaigns. It is for good reason that Schweinsteiger was described as “the brain” of the national side by as Löw as Germany won the World Cup in Brazil last summer.
Indeed, the player was outstanding in the final against Argentina, moving former United midfielder Paul Scholes to label Schweinsteiger the outstanding contributor in the calendar year 2014.
“If I was to pick my standout it would have to be, in a World Cup year, a World Cup winner,” said Scholes last December. “If I had to pick my player of the year it would be Schweinsteiger.”
The World Cup proved to be the pinnacle of a career that began in Bayern’s youth team before a rapid ascent to Ottmar Hitzfeld’s squad. Hitzfeld granted the player a first team debut at the age of 18 in 2002. Schweinsteiger made early appearances for Der FCB in defence and on the wing before switching to central midfield where his range of effective passing found a good marriage with a high-energy game.
More than 20 club honours later and Schweinsteiger will add much to Van Gaal’s search for balance at United. Over the past year the Dutchman has weighed a career-long natural attacking tendency with what Van Gaal believes are serious weaknesses in his squad. If Schweinsteiger adds anything it may be to eradicated Van Gaal’s incessant tinkering, particularly with the shape of his side.
Van Gaal’s team is likely to be more settled in the coming months not least because the Dutchman is keen to address the club’s defensive weaknesses first; the Reds also having confirmed the addition of defender Matteo Darmian to the squad. Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin is still likely to join, with a top-class central defender also on the cards.
Beyond the initial intrigue Schweinsteiger’s impending arrival also poses questions. First, of how the player will to fit into United’s shape, and then of whom will make way for the German. While a more defensive-minded central midfield role might suit a player who will turn 31 in August, Van Gaal is also likely to be wary about rapidly losing Michael Carrick’s influence in the United side. Only a cursory glance at the data is required to understand Carrick’s value to United: the Reds picked up more than 2.3 points-per-game in the Premier League last season with the Geordie in the team, against just 1.5 without.
With Ander Herrera’s energy, quick-tempo passing and goals impressing towards the end of last season, it might well be Marouane Fellaini who is most at risk from the German’s arrival. Van Gaal’s desire to field, if not two defensive players in midfield then at least one and an all-rounder, points to a trio in the centre of the park comprising Carrick, Schweinsteiger and Herrera when Tottenham Hotspur visits Old Trafford on 8 August.
This requirement for balance, together with Carrick’s age and Schweinsteiger’s injury-record last season, means that a deal for Schneiderlin remains likely despite the German’s capture.
In fact additional defensive resources probably hold to key to unlocking United’s attacking freedom, with Van Gaal keen to resurrect a 4-3-3 shape that was commonly used towards the back-end of last season. Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata, Ashley Young, Adnan Januzaj and new signing Memphis Depay offer Van Gaal abundant attacking options even if the Dutchman is currently light senior on strikers.
That challenge may well be resolved in the market, while United remains on the hunt for an experienced central defender and – probably – a goalkeeper to replace David de Gea. Either way, Van Gaal’s squad is rapidly nearing completion (above, right).
For the moment, however, the focus remains on Schweinsteiger – a player who could well provide the kind of high-quality if short-term spark that Robin van Persie once offered. The Dutch striker leaves United this summer having proven dubious value for a £24 million fee, but an outstanding capture nonetheless.
The smart money is on Schweinsteiger following a similar pattern.
World Cup (Germany) – 2014
Club World Cup – 2013
Champions League – 2013
Bundesliga – 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015
DFB Cup – 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014
DFB League Cup – 2004, 2007
DFL Supercup – 2010, 2012
German Player of the Year – 2013