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Bastian Schweinsteiger: From winger to warrior

October 8, 2019

Bastian Schweinsteiger has won almost everything, changing German football and himself along the way. As he announces his retirement, DW looks back at one of Germany's finest, most enduring and best-loved footballers.

Bastian Schweinsteiger
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

By the time of the performance that will forever define his career, Bastian Schweinsteiger was a tough, smart, skilled and streetwise central midfielder. The controller, if not the captain, of the Germany side that won the World Cup in Rio in 2014.

Along with Mario Götze's winning goal, images of Schweinsteiger — bleeding from a cut just beneath his eye — driving his team on physically and technically are those that have lingered longest in the collective memory. 

Such a complete performance in the heart of midfield in the biggest game on the planet was remarkable. But it becomes even more so for those who remember his first steps into elite football as a teenage Bayern Munich winger with a reputation for questionable behavior and haircuts.

Ottmar Hitzfeld handed Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm their Bayern debuts in a Champions League group-stage tie in November 2002 and the pair would go on to define both Bayern and the German national team for over a decade. Schweinsteiger made 500 Bayern appearances, winning eight Bundesliga titles, seven German Cups and the Champions League as part of the 2013 treble under coach Jupp Heynckes.

The man with the plan

"To me, Schweinsteiger is a great strategist," Heynckes said of his player shortly before that treble. "Just as a film director has his script, he has a plan in his mind for matches."

By that time, the boy from Bavaria had become a man. His early appearances came mostly on the right-hand side of midfield, where Schweinsteiger's crossing and penchant for spectacular long-range passes and shots were allowed to come to the fore. His performances there were enough to win him a surprise call-up for his country's Euro 2004 squad shortly after his international debut against Hungary.

Though Germany exited at the group stage in Portugal, Schweinsteiger impressed and it was the last time he'd have to suffer such an exit. The 35-year-old shares the record for most appearances in World Cup and Euros finals matches (38) with Cristiano Ronaldo and played a key role as Germany restored some national sporting pride with a home World Cup in 2006 that many saw as the foundation for what happened eight years later.

As well as that third-placed finish in 2006, Schweinsteiger also helped Germany finish third in the 2010 World Cup but was denied a European Championships winners medal with a series of close calls over four tournaments. It's the one medal missing from his collection.

Heart on sleeve

There were also moments of heartbreak with Bayern, most notably the 2012 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea on home turf. Schweinsteiger was visibly distraught after the penalty loss and his visceral reaction drew plenty of sympathy.

It wasn't unusual. More than most footballers, and contrary to the general perception of German players, Schweinsteiger showed what he felt. It's always been clear how much he cared and how much he valued the team and the sport.

"Bastian was the soul and the heart of the team. He did everything for the team, not for himself," said Heynckes.

After a public admonishment from German Chancellor Angela Merkel following a sending-off against Croatia in 2008, Schweinsteiger became something of an ambassador for German football, maintaining his composure through a difficult spell at Manchester United before winding down his career with Chicago Fire. With the Fire having missed out on the playoffs this season and Schweinsteiger's contract running out, he's decided to call time. 

As tributes continue to pour in from teammates, it's clear he'll retire as an undisputed Bayern Munich and Germany icon. As for the future, Germany coach Joachim Löw hinted ahead of a rematch of that 2014 final on Wednesday that the door was open to his former charge.

Whether Schweinsteiger is ready to take that next step is not yet clear. But he's never shirked a challenge before.

Bastian Schweinsteiger: 33 years in 33 photos