Despite his captain's injury issues, it's understandable that Germany coach Joachim Löw wasn't quite ready to let go of Bastian Schweinsteiger until after Euro 2016. DW's Stefan Bienkowski explains why the time's right.
It's never easy saying goodbye, but in the case of Bastian Schweinsteiger's departure from Joachim Löw's German national team it could have been far harder.
After 120 senior appearances, 24 goals, 12 years and one very important World Cup trophy the Manchester United midfielder leaves with his head held high, safe in the knowledge that his team are well prepared for his departure.
On the surface, it seems as though the 31-year-old has finally called quits on a battle he has been losing since he returned from Brazil two years ago. Despite leading Germany to a World Cup win, it has become increasingly apparent that Schweinsteiger is no longer the physically-imposing midfielder he once was.
Move to Manchester failed to spark
A move to Manchester United last summer seems only to have confirmed the decline, as he struggled through his opening season, missing no less than 17 Premier League games through injury. By May this year it became all too clear why Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola had been comfortable seeing a favored son depart.
Despite a lack of game time and the obvious fitness concerns, Schweinsteiger was called up to the German squad for Euro 2016. Even though Löw may have had younger, fitter options, the Bundestrainer was insistent on his captain playing a part in the coming campaign.
The decision was based largely on the fact that Schweinsteiger still had the respect of his peers as team captain. Löw clearly felt his skipper's experience would prove vital in a squad that had already begun to transition and welcome in younger players short of international caps.
Although Germany had proven players in Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller to rely upon, the thought of losing Schweinsteiger so soon after Philipp Lahm had retired seemed an unnecessary risk.
Löw struggled to replace Lahm
Lahm's retirement after the 2014 World Cup left a huge hole in Germany's defence, which Löw only managed to fill convincingly two years later. The German boss tried a number of options with mixed results before throwing Joshua Kimmich in on a wing and a prayer. Although Kimmich ultimately thrived in his new role, it showed just how hard it was to replace a player of such stature.
Under Löw, Germany aren't the quickest, most skilful or even the most technically-gifted side but they're often always the most mentally resolute. That strength is one all too rarely considered in the modern game but it's one that Schweinsteiger adds in enormous quantities whenever he's on the pitch.
Potential replacements lacked experience
It's also no surprise that when Sami Khedira picked up an injury in the quarterfinals of the competition, Löw turned to Schweinsteiger rather than Julian Weigl or Emre Can. Although the younger players may have looked better on paper, the German coach simply wasn't ready to rely on them like he could Schweinsteiger.
Whether fans or critics agree with his assessment, Löw simply didn't think a possible successor to Schweinsteiger was ready to take his place at this summer's European Championships.
However, with the high-pressure tournament now in the past and a gentle-looking qualification campaign for World Cup 2018, Löw now has time to build his new squad. If Weigl, Can or even Kimmich weren't ready to replace Schweinsteiger in June they almost certainly will be in two years time when Germany travel to Russia.
With his domestic career wavering and the slow but persitent tick of the clock constantly in the background, few would have begrudged Schweinsteiger had he quit last summer.
Instead, in a decision that speaks to his character, he opted instead to wait until the time was right for him and his country and can now apply 100 percent of his time and few remaining years to his current club - or whoever his next employers may be.
Because of that, Löw and Germany will remain exceptionally grateful as they now look to replacing another retired hero.
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