When he entered the field as a substitute to make his Manchester United debut against Tottenham Hotspur in August 2015, the rousing ovation which Bastian Schweinsteiger received might well have been one of the most spine-tingling moments of even his gold-plated career.
Yet he was greeted with even more gusto by the Old Trafford crowd on Wednesday when replacing two-goal Anthony Martial for the dying moments of the 4-1 League Cup win over West Ham United. It said much about whose camp the supporters were in in the great Schweinsteiger-Mourinho debate which has bubbled away this term.
The German’s difficult 2016 needs little recap. Injured for much of the run-in in 2015-16, he was told he had no future at the club by new manager Jose Mourinho in the summer. He eventually ended up training with academy graduates and then alone in dedicated sessions with a personal trainer before being written off as an asset, classified in United’s annual financial results as “no longer considered to be a member of the first-team playing squad.”
But by the end of October he was back with the seniors in training, with Mourinho claiming it was a case of Schweini simply making up the numbers: “It’s a decision based on the fact that we are in a period in the season when it’s really difficult to train with everybody together. The tactical work I like to do with 21 players, 23-24 max… many times we go to the academy to bring some young boys to have a group with the perfect numbers to train.”
Yet last Sunday’s Premier League fixture with West Ham saw Schweinsteiger return to the match squad and by Wednesday he was back in action, if only for seven or eight minutes. It is a far cry from the situation six weeks ago. The 32-year-old had led something of a social media charm offensive, posting a message insisting he didn’t want to leave United and then showing himself working hard and enjoying the Manchester lifestyle. But he had also been doing everything on the training pitch to underline his commitment to the cause.
The result is that he is no longer persona non grata. When reintroducing him to first-team training a month ago, Mourinho had explained that a match-fit Schweinsteiger would be better placed to look to the future, without committing to whether that would lie with United or further afield.
“Looking at Bastian and the way he is working professionally every day with the fitness coach we think it’s a human decision, a professional decision, to bring him back to the team,” the manager said.
“He will be much better prepared and conditioned in case his future decision is to leave the club, he will be prepared to go into competition. If he stays with us he becomes one more option.”
But by Friday he had changed his tune somewhat on the subject of the World Cup winner, admitting there could well be a road back into the first-team picture for Schweinsteiger.
“When you have a contract with a club, you are the powerful one; you are the one who can decide your future. So in the summer we tried to make something happen for Bastian to have a different future, he was the powerful one and he decided to stay even in difficult circumstances and he worked for that.
“He deserved that little happiness of the last match, so in January again he will be the powerful one and probably with better feelings than before because now he is working with the team. I think he understands our dynamic, our philosophy, and you can see the happiness he showed the other day is from somebody who is so proud with his effort and his determination. I like people with determination.”
He may not have convinced with his performances under Louis van Gaal, nor with his attitude to recuperating from injury towards the end of his first season at United, but Schweinsteiger is slowly starting to win over Mourinho with his increased efforts. Gone are the days when the German can dictate the pace and direction of a game as he used to do with Bayern Munich, but according to the manager he remains a first-team prospect at the very least.
From ignored to powerful… Bastian Schweinsteiger has had quite a turnaround.