Schweinsteiger, the Tragic Hero
During the Confederations Cup 2005 in Germany – one year before the country hosted the World Cup – a whole nation was glued to the TV screens to support the national football team — back then still coached by Juergen Klinsmann.
While Germany has always been quite successful on an international level, it never had a reputation for playing refreshing and exciting-to-watch football. But in 2005, suddenly everything had changed.
It was Klinsmann, together with current coach Joachim Loew, who introduced a new philosophy to dusty and stiff football Germany: He adopted an offensive way of playing, he brought in young talents, and German football fans fell in love all over with their team’s new approach to the sport that means the world to them.
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski were the two players that represented this new philosophy more than anyone else. Both up and coming, rising stars Schweini and Poldi, as they were affectionately called by their fans, not only implemented their coach’s strategy, but also quickly became stars off the pitch thanks to their carefree and mischievous manners – Germany adopted them as the nation’s two football rascals, who were always in a playful, joking mood.
Over the years that followed, both Schweini and Poldi continued to play football: Poldi had an unsuccessful stint at Bayern Munich and eventually moved back to his old team, Cologne, where he sometimes performed overwhelmingly good, but at other times failed miserably to keep up his game. Still in the squad for the German national team, Podolski will move to Arsenal in the new season.
Schweini, on the other hand, has remained loyal to Bayern Munich, the one club that has nurtured him since his youth.
The midfielder has more and more grown into the role of the leading man on the field. He may not be the one wearing the captain’s armband, but he is undeniably the heart and the engine of the team.
Somewhere along the way, the mischievous young man has matured and turned into a responsible adult and football player, and as Uli Hoeness once said “Schweini doesn’t exist anymore. He is Mr. Schweinsteiger now.”
Growing up, both on and off the pitch, Schweinsteiger accepted more responsibility, and it seemed like a natural transition, both at Bayern Munich and the German national team.
After the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, where Germany finished third, it was obvious that Schweinsteiger had quietly – without the bragging of a Philipp Lahm – taken over Michael Ballack’s role as the leader.
However, this season wasn’t a good one for Schweinsteiger. He was injured twice, and spent most of the time in rehabilitation and watching his teammates struggling to win any trophy.
When he made a comeback a couple of weeks ago, he was obviously not yet at 100 percent. And still, it didn’t matter. Because together with Bayern Munich, he had a dream. He wanted to win the Champions League trophy on home soil — a once-in-a-lifetime chance and a conciliating, happy ending to a messed up season.
When Bayern had to go into a penalty shootout against Real Madrid in the semifinals, it was Schweinsteiger who stepped up, who took the ball and shot that last penalty that catapulted him and his team into the final and football heaven.
And on Saturday, in the long-awaited Champions League final against Chelsea, it was again Schweinsteiger who stepped up during the penalty shootout.
Other players had refused to take a shot (up to a point where goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had to fill in). They crumbled to pieces under the immense pressure. Schweinsteiger, however, knew that as a true leader, he had to do his duty. It didn’t help that before the match, former football players like Stefan Effenberg and Oliver Kahn challenged the midfielder “to show his true leadership qualities.”
So he took the ball, walked up to the penalty shot – and failed. Our Schweini. The one who is supposed to lead us on our quest to win the next European championship.
Only a person without a heart could have seen the images of a desperately crying Schweinsteiger and not feel deeply sorry for him. He was the tragic hero, the angel fallen from grace, the Oliver Kahn of the World Cup 2002.
In this exact moment, one could probably hear a loud crack – it was the sound of a million German hearts breaking.
And even though it may not seem like it now, he will get over the guilt and pain. It will help him mature as a player.
And he will have the support of a whole country, now more than ever. Because we suddenly realized, that football players are human after all. They make mistakes like everybody else, and when they did, the whole world is watching. It is a cruel fate. But it is also the reason why Schweinsteiger still has the chance to become one of Germany’s greats, despite the lost Champions League final.
We all love to see a fallen hero rise again.
Schweinsteiger is now a made man. He’s ready.