Bastian Schweinsteiger, one of the modern-day greats, has seemingly been rejected by new Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho which is a great shame, writes Richard Jolly.
The last time Bastian Schweinsteiger played at Wembley, it was the culmination of a club career. May 2013, Borussia Dortmund 1 Bayern Munich 2: he was a Champions League winner at last. There is a picture of the German, conducting the crowd in song, wearing a T-shirt reading “Football is coming hoam”. The spelling mistake is deliberate, the “AM” daubed on, a Bavarian version of the Euro ’96 anthem.
The last time Bastian Schweinsteiger went to Old Trafford, there was another picture of him grinning. He posted it himself on Twitter after Wayne Rooney’s testimonial. His garb is different, however: he is suited, the smile seeming a valiant attempt to disguise the hurt. Jose Mourinho used 22 players in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Everton. Schweinsteiger was not among them. He was not on the bench. He has been training with the reserves.
He should have been returning to Wembley on Sunday. The significance of the Community Shield can be debated but the showpiece occasions, with their pomp and ceremony, can be a stage worthy of men like Schweinsteiger. Instead, he will be a spectator again: perhaps in an executive box, as he was on Wednesday, perhaps nowhere to be seen.
A year ago, Schweinsteiger seemed Manchester United’s flagship signing, a player whose every touch was cheered by adoring fans on their pre-season tour of America. Now their adulation is directed towards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, perhaps, Paul Pogba. Now idol has become exile, exciting addition looking a cast-off, a Louis van Gaal ally seeming persona non grata for Jose Mourinho.
It is part of a chastening fall. In little over a year, Schweinsteiger has been deemed surplus to requirements by two of the world’s great clubs. He has slipped below Marouane Fellaini in the pecking order, ballooned a penalty in Euro 2016 over the bar and voluntarily ended his international career.
He comes from the country that coined the word Schadenfreude. It is an apt description of some reactions to his struggles. They can be compelling, in the way car-crash viewing sometimes is. The decline of the greats tends to be dramatic.
And, make no mistake, Bastian Schweinsteiger is a genuine modern-day great. It is not merely the eight Bundesliga titles, the 2013 Champions League crown or the 120 German caps, putting him fourth on the leaderboard for Europe’s most successful national team. It is not purely because he was the best player on the pitch in a World Cup final, though only 21 men in history can say that. It is a combination of CV, character and quality. At his best, he allied energy with a Germanic sense of purpose and an acute football brain. There was something formidable about Schweinsteiger, as there are about Bayern and Germany. Now there is something superfluous about him.
There is a case for treating everyone equally. There is the meritocratic argument that players are handled according to their footballing value. And yet it need not be romantic or nostalgic to argue the greats merit a little more sympathy and leeway.
Certainly that is the view from Bavaria. United were deemed classless. “I could hardly believe it,” said Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “One or two players are going to think long and hard in future about whether they want to go to such a club. Nothing like that has ever happened at Bayern Munich.”