The ex-Bayern Munich midfielder is now preparing himself for a January exit after he failed to allay fears over his decline at Old Trafford in recent months.
It is a situation described by Per Mertesacker this week as “perverse”, and looked upon by many football fans across the globe as an entirely bizarre and unforeseen episode. The ostracism of Bastian Schweinsteiger at Manchester United has led one of the world’s most recognisable sporting heroes to train alone amid the realisation his top-level career is heading for a rather sudden and ignominious end.
Schweinsteiger arrived at Old Trafford in 2015 as Germany captain and a reigning world champion, but the cracks had begun to appear in his game under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, with the now-Manchester City boss insisting that the midfielder’s body had undermined his attempts to elongate his spell at the top of the game. “He is a top, top player. Unfortunately, during the last three years he was never in good condition,” warned Guardiola.
And, in truth, Guardiola’s words proved prophetic during Schweini’s first season in Manchester under Louis van Gaal. He missed almost all the second half of the campaign due to a knee injury, while the Dutch manager admitted to being “very disappointed” with the player’s performances prior to his enforced lay-off.
“During December I said that I expect more and he was very disappointed I said that, but I think I can say that because my expectation is higher,” said Van Gaal. “Manchester United has bought him even though he is now 31, so I had to convince the board to buy him, because he’s a very good player and he always gives a team more balance.”
That inability to win over even the manager who stuck his neck out to get him a good deal at Old Trafford has been underlined since Jose Mourinho took over from Van Gaal in the summer. Schweinsteiger might have experienced a semi-renaissance with Germany at Euro 2016 and celebrated his marriage to tennis star Ana Ivanovic during the close-season, but on his return to United’s Carrington training complex he was warned by the Portuguese boss that he had no future at the club and would not be considered for selection.
If that seemed harsh to some, underneath the surface there was plenty of supporting evidence for Mourinho to come to such a conclusion. As if the run of underwhelming form which left Van Gaal disappointed was not enough, Schweinsteiger had spent much of his injury lay-off jet-setting across the globe to follow Ivanovic on the WTA tour.
It was not an approach which went down well in the United dressing room, with more commitment to the cause generally expected at a club which prides itself on its work ethic. Add in his lack of fitness over a four-year period, and it should perhaps have been inevitable that a manager as ruthless as Mourinho would draw a line under the experiment that has been his Manchester United career.
Schweinsteiger’s brother, Tobias, took to Twitter to decry the fact Bastian had been shown “no respect”, but the decision had already been made. The only suitable response was to move on. And the player has spent much of his time since the summer training with the under-23s but of late he has taken to working alone with a trainer in a bid to undergo a more personalised routine which will get him match-fit for a potential January move. While his attitude is said to have impressed those with whom he has had regular contact at Carrington, the 32-year-old has had little contact with his former first-team colleagues and he now looks destined for a winter departure.
Having stated in the summer that Manchester United, as the only club he could have left Bayern for, would be his last European club it now seems highly likely that a Major League Soccer future awaits. But while league commissioner Don Garber has claimed the midfielder would be “welcomed with open arms,” New York Red Bulls have moved to dismiss speculation that the Red Bull Arena will be his next destination.
Wherever he ends up next, his current situation is arguably of his own making. And while Mourinho has been painted as the pantomime villain in some circles, even the German himself has said that he respects the decision of the manager.
“We have had talks and I have no problem with Jose Mourinho. We had a good chat and he told me his side of things and I also know what I want,” he said following his farewell to the Germany national team in September. “There is respect between us and that’s important for me. I am certainly not going to stop playing football.”
Where exactly he will play that football remains unclear, but all parties are now working towards Schweinsteiger’s Manchester United nightmare being brought to an end in the next three months.