Tonight’s match against Sweden will be a landmark for Bastian Schweinsteiger as he is set to earn his 100th cap for the National Team. The Bayern München midfielder will join a select group of players who have earned more than 100 caps for (unified) Germany, which currently includes Miroslav Klose (130), Lukas Podolski (111) and Philipp Lahm (101). If we include caps for West Germany, Lothar Matthäus (150) is the most capped German player, followed by Klose, Podolski, Jürgen Klinsmann (108), Jürgen Kohler (105), Franz Beckenbauer (103), Lahm and Thomas Häßler (101).
Schweinsteiger’s debut came at the age of 19 on June 6th 2004, in a friendly match against Hungary to commemorate the 50 years of Das Wunder von Bern, aka the 1954 World Cup Final. That afternoon in the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern, a fitting venue for the occasion, Germany lost 2-0 in the midst of a generational change. Making his debut that night too was Lukas Podolski, also from the bench, and while the result was a bad one, it was the beginning of a bright few years ahead for German football.
Schweinsteiger has been the leader in this generational change in German football, which has changed its style, its preferred formation and has brought in players from other ethnic backgrounds. However, that change was still in motion back in 2004 when Germany was eliminated in the group stages of the European Championships, including a disappointing 0-0 draw against Latvia. Many voices said that the young boys (Lahm, Podolski and Schweinsteiger) were not up to it but they were nowhere to be heard two years later as Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup and finished third, with Schweinsteiger playing all the matches and scoring two goals in the process (both in the 3rd/4th playoff match against Portugal). Germany was on the up and Schweinsteiger was carrying the flag. He had gone from being the young kid with acne and terrible a haircut to a midfield maestro.
Schweinsteiger is one of the three best players in German football history – Jupp Heynckes
In the 2008 European Championships he received his first red card against Croatia in the group stages but still kept his place in the team for the knockout stages up until the defeat against Spain in the final. This was the sign that Germany was once again a force to be reckoned with in international football and that 2006 was no flash in the pan due to home advantage. Confirmation came in the 2010 World Cup on a hot afternoon in Cape Town, when Germany thrashed Argentina 4-0 in what was quite probably Schweinsteiger’s best performance in a Germany shirt. Germany went to lose to eventual champions Spain (once again 1-0) in the semi-finals but it was a positive performance from a young and inexperienced German team of which the boys of 2004 were now the experienced leaders.
His impact has been such that Jupp Heynckes called him “one of the three best players in German football history”. Schweinsteiger took the captain’s armband for the first time in a friendly against Belgium in 2008 and from the start against the UAE in 2009. When not injured, Schweinsteiger was key to Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw but, after 2006, injuries started to catch up with him and this has been one of the reasons why Schweinsteiger has missed so many international matches, a total of 37 since his debut in 2004. So much so that he hasn’t played a single friendly match for Germany since 2011 in order to maintain his fitness for his club and is now only used in competitive matches for the national team. In the 2012 European Championships, Germany ended up losing disappointingly against Italy in the semi-finals and Schweinsteiger was on the end of a harsh season, after missing the decisive penalty in the Champions League Final against Chelsea a few weeks before. But what a comeback he had the season after, leading Bayern München to the treble.
One could say that the only thing missing in Schweinsteiger’s career is a trophy with his country. Having come closest in 2008, Brazil 2014 might be the last real chance that he has of winning a World Cup as a first-team member of the squad. Schweinsteiger stated in 2010 that a trophy with Germany was one of his main objectives in his career and that it would not be complete without it. Schweinsteiger is now at the peak of his career and, injuries permitting, he will want to crown in next summer.
These last nine years have been of huge change not just in the German national team but also for Schweinsteiger himself, going from being led to being a leader, from following examples to being one and Joachim Löw will be looking at him to drive his team to success just like he does for his club. Whatever happens next summer, Schweinsteiger will be remembered for being a player who changed the face of German football for the better.
Image courtesy of dfb.de