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Bastian SCHWEINSTEIGER
GRANT WAHL
June 16, 2011
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE IS THE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF BAYERN MUNICH AND GERMANY
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June 16, 2011

Bastian Schweinsteiger

THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE IS THE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF BAYERN MUNICH AND GERMANY

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These days Schweinsteiger has become one of Bayern's leaders, a vice captain who takes over the armband whenever the captain, Lahm, isn't able to play. "I don't like to speak in the group, but I do a lot of one-on-ones [with teammates]," he says. "I prefer to look into the other guy's eyes."

Part of Schweinsteiger's maturation includes his determination not to get too high or too low about the response of the famously fickle Bayern fans. When he plays well, the common chant at Allianz Arena is "Schweinsteiger, Fussballgott!" (Schweinsteiger, football god!) But he remains ambivalent about it.

"When I first heard it, I thought, Is this good or bad?" he says. "Because before, there was 'Carsten Jancker, Fussballgott!' And he was not such a technical player."

Schweinsteiger's attitude comes from experience. In November 2009, after a less than stellar run of form, he was booed by his own supporters at Bayern's annual general meeting, but he and the team went on to have a memorable season. "My relationship with fans? Honestly, it's not so good," Schweinsteiger admits. "When I play, I always do my best for the team, and I've been doing it since 2002. So I don't understand. The newspapers make a different image of me—big car, model-girlfriend—but that's not the true picture. I was disappointed with the fans. Now everyone is, 'Basti!' and applauding. But I have [last year] in my brain, and I remember it when they [clap].

"For me, in England the fans are better," he adds. "When the team gives its best, they are not booing. It's like they are fans more with the heart."

Maybe so, but it's worth pointing out that Schweinsteiger enjoyed playing for Bayern enough to sign a four-year contract extension last December. And the fact is that the Bundesliga is an extremely fan-friendly league. The average crowd in 2009--10 was 41,802, the world's highest, and ticket prices even for Bayern Munich are dirt cheap compared with those for the top clubs in England.

German teams such as Bayern have done a fine job of youth development, helping to ensure the success of their clubs and of the Germany national team. Consider: Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Müller are all products of the Bayern academy. Moreover, the Bundesliga is well-positioned to take advantage of UEFA's new financial fair-play rules (which prohibit clubs from spending more money than they generate), not least because its teams carry very little debt compared with those in England.

That said, Schweinsteiger enjoys watching the Premier League and doesn't rule out making the move to England at some point in his career. Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has gone out of his way to compliment Schweinsteiger's game, and it's not a big leap to imagine him driving forward in the Red Devils' midfield.

"What I love is the atmosphere in English stadiums," Schweinsteiger says. "When we played last year in Manchester it was fantastic. My brother is a big fan of Man U, and he always says, 'Go to Man U, go to Man U.' I say, 'I can't! I can't!'"

Schweinsteiger pauses. "Maybe they can swap me for [Wayne] Rooney," he adds, showing that he has comedic timing in more than his native language.

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