The acquisition of Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich is a signal of intent from a club that is trying to claw it’s way back to the perch it famously knocked Liverpool off of.
Manchester United are used to being at or near the top of the Premier League pyramid, but the last two seasons have seen them endure the ignominy of finishing seventh and fourth respectively – positions that were previously seen as unthinkable for Manchester United in the Premier League era. Understandable then, that their first instinct was panic. They swiftly sacked David Moyes, who went from being hailed as the successor to the great Sir Alex Ferguson to the man that seemed to be attempting to drive Manchester United, a Rolls Royce like club, off a cliff at 80 miles an hour. They then started throwing money at whoever would take it from them. Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini and Radamel Falcao were all brought in in a hurry – most for more than they were worth. Some, like Herrera, Mata and arguably Fellaini seem to be working out, others like Falcao and Di Maria less so. All were brought in without a clear sense of direction, just disparate islands that the manager was expected to mold together and turn into a functioning, title-winning team.
However, if the transfer windows of the last two seasons have been fuelled by panic, this season’s so far has been fuelled by common sense. United have bought and sold quickly and sensibly in positions where they have so far been wanting. The promising Memphis Depay at right wing was wrapped up before the end of last season, Matteo Darmian at right back, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield have all been wrapped up before the beginning of the pre-season tour. Manchester United have so far gone about their business with the quiet arrogance of a skilled assassin, and if the rumors are to be believed, they aren’t done yet.
Of the acquisitions so far, it has to be said that Schweinsteiger is the one that stands out. A German World Cup winning legend that could have stayed at the club he has been with since he was 14 years old, instead decided to trade the red of Munich for the red of Manchester. At 31 (in August), he is arriving at the age where central midfielders are said to be at the peak of their powers. He will be expected to bring experience and a winning mentality to a young United dressing room that could do with a bit of both right now. His presence will also be a boost to the United fans, a sensible, relatively cheap, world-class purchase in a problem position. The fact that he has worked with Van Gaal before can only be an added benefit.
How much of a loss is he to Bayern? As an icon he is a massive loss, but on the pitch arguably less so. Under Pep Guardiola Bayern signed a host of midfield players including Mario Goetze, Thiago and Xabi Alonso to add to their already talented ensemble, making the recently often injured Schweinsteiger almost surplus to requirements.
How much of a gain is he to Manchester United? It seems that he has been bought to play the deep lying playmaker role at United, and there is no doubt that he will be an improvement to the players that occupied that role for United last season. Carrick was effective in the games that he played, but was too often injured. Blind worked hard but seemed to be slightly out of his depth when shunted from left back to midfield. Phil Jones huffed and puffed like a steam engine that only blew hot air, and Fellaini seemed to briefly thrive only when thrust further forward.
Though his younger swashbuckling days are probably behind him, Schweinsteiger still has strong ball winning and retention skills, an eye for goal, and a calmness under pressure that will be invaluable to a team that is expected to compete on multiple fronts. His injury record over the last two seasons should be a cause for concern, but rotation with the capable Carrick should mean it is a minor one. The utilitarian Blind will go back to being the jack of all trades, the stop gap to plug leaks wherever is deemed necessary. Jones should now be allowed to focus on developing as a central defender, while Fellaini will see less playing time as a starter at least, as he competes with Mata, Di Maria and Herrera for starting positions further up the pitch. The tactic of using him as pinball always seemed to be more of a short term plan than a long term strategy. United should now be able to play a patient possession game with the ‘long ball to Fellaini’ approach a useful Plan B.
It is generally accepted that United will need a few more signings to really compete with the elite in Europe and even at home. They need a quality center-back, a striker to replace the departed Robin van Persie, and possibly another goalkeeper if David De Gea leaves. However, with the signings so far, and with the acquisition of Schweinsteiger in particular, there is a growing sense that they are now headed in the right direction. That question of how much a gain he is for the club will soon be answered, and United will hope it will be in emphatic fashion.
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