Last week saw German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger say farewell to Manchester United after just one and a half seasons at Old Trafford when he agreed to join Chicago Fire in a free transfer. Sadly for United fans, it seems that their city rival Pep Guardiola was right in his assessment of the midfielder when sanctioning his £6.7 million move to Old Trafford in August 2015.
The then Bayern Munich manager was asked in a press conference whether Schweinsteiger would be successful in Manchester – Guardiola gave a straight answer:
‘When he does not have injury problems, I am completely convinced he will do very well at Manchester United.
He is a top, top player. Unfortunately, during the last three years he was never in good condition.
He is going to play really good there (at United). I really hope that is going to happen.’
One of the finest players of his generation, commanding the Bayern midfield for over a decade, Schweinsteiger was already in his decline when Guardiola took over the Bavarian club in 2013 from Jupp Heynckes. In his final season in the Bundesliga, Schweinsteiger only started 15 league games in contrast to 22 the season before and 27 in 2012-13 which saw the German club secure a Domestic and European treble.
Following his summer move, Schweinsteiger quickly adapted to life under Louis van Gaal in Manchester and became an important member of the United first-team after featuring in United’s first 15 Premier League games of the season. However, the German never really looked fully fit and Guardiola’s assessment of his former player became reality when he injured himself in January.
Even before his injury in the F.A. Cup against Sheffield United, van Gaal seemed unimpressed by Schweinsteiger’s performances and felt the midfielder could have shown more:
‘The reason why we have bought Schweinsteiger is because he’s a player who can lead and guide a team.
It’s not just because of his football abilities that we bought him. Until now we haven’t seen the best of Schweinsteiger, the player I saw at Bayern Munich.
I believe that in every match we have played he could have played better.’
The injury to his knee put Schweinsteiger out of action for two months before returning to the first-team squad and repeating the injury while away with Germany in March. From the turn of the year to the end of the season, Schweinsteiger played just two Premier League games for United.
After Louis van Gaal was sacked the day after lifting the F.A. Cup – United’s first since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Schweinsteiger’s time at the club appeared to be up. In came José Mourinho, who immediately made the midfielder surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.
Although a fan favourite, the 32-year-old was made to train with the reserves and even written off in the club’s accounts, however, the German refused to give up on his United career and rode out the situation until getting a chance when Mourinho invited him back to first-team training in October, albeit due to a lack of numbers due to injuries at the time.
In what seemed like a complete U-turn from Mourinho after a few months of hard work from the German, Schweinsteiger returned to first-team action in December, coming off the bench to a hero’s welcome in the last few minutes of United’s 4-1 EFL Cup win over West Ham United.
A second cameo appearance against Reading in the F.A. Cup and a start in the same competition when Wigan Athletic visited, scoring a goal in the process. Schweinsteiger’s final outing in a Manchester United shirt would come against St. Etienne in late February after coming on for Michael Carrick for the last half hour of the Europa League second leg in France.
Although Germany’s fourth most-capped player of all time had fought his way back into Mourinho’s plans, it was still very clear that he was going to be a bit-part player at best. It was obvious that the Portuguese wanted to keep him until the end of the season as an insurance policy against injuries but didn’t trust him with the pace and intensity of Premier League football.
Chicago Fire reportedly wanted the German in the summer although it took until last week to get the deal done partly due to Schweinsteiger’s reluctance to give up on his Old Trafford career. The midfielder now just needs to secure a work permit to join his new team-mates in Major League Soccer, with the league season already four games old.
Schweinsteiger himself said, “I wish I could have done more,” when addressing the United fans on social media after the announcement was made official. In hindsight, Guardiola’s assessment in the summer of 2015 was proved right.
The Schweinsteiger of old was definitely the player the Old Trafford club were searching for for years, but the one that they got was one on the decline. The engine that won the German Footballer of the Year in 2013 was no longer the same and unable to keep up with the rigours of English football.
A move across the pond to the MLS may prove to be exactly what the German needed – a milder, slower paced game and the chance to have a little anonymity in a country that is still in its footballing adolescence. Regardless of how things pan out on the pitch in America, he will certainly be a great ambassador for the game off it.