Bastian Schweinsteiger: The best midfielder in the world?
The Bayern Munich legend started off slowly but has now perfected his game to become a dominant force on the pitch
Bastian Schweinsteiger has matured into one of the world's finest players and Bayern Munich's meteoric rise to the height of European football is largely down to the Kolbermoor born midfielder.
Schweinsteiger made his debut for the Bavarian Club in 2002 at the tender age of 18 as a wide-midfield player.
He made 14 Bundesliga appearances in his first season which signified his great potential for the future. But it was not until the 2006 World Cup, in his home country of Germany, that we saw this potential realised.
Two explosive strikes in the third-place match against Portugal earned him the Man of the Match award. It was during this tournament that Schweinsteiger demonstrated his prowess for long-distance shooting and his confidence with the dead-ball.
After the 05-06 season, more was expected of Schweinsteiger and though domestically he was able to contribute to the overall performance of the team, internationally he was being overshadowed by players more suited to his position.
The arrival of Louis van Gaal to Bayern as manager in 2009 and the presence of Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben saw Schweinsteiger moved to a central-midfield role.
This change in position would encapsulate his game perfectly. Schweinsteiger was merely seen as a highlight-reel player. He was a free-kick specialist with a powerful shot, nothing more.
However, his ability to read the game is spectacular and this has become the defining attribute that sets him apart from his peers. His passing is good, his tackling is good and his dribbling is good, but it is his ability to read the game that makes all of these attributes great.
Schweinsteiger's development in his new-found position was made easier with the absence of one Michael Ballack on the international stage.
Additionally, as one of the few senior players in the German squad building up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Schweinsteiger's leadership capabilities came into their own.
Not only did he steer his side towards qualification but during the 2010 World Cup he contributed a tournament-high three assists and was subsequently nominated for the Golden Ball Award.
The man dubbed "The Brain" has continued to control the midfield on a consistent basis and was at his brilliant best in securing Bayern Munich's place in this year's Champions League final.
A dominant display of tactical awareness and ball retention against Barcelona eclipsed the performances of Xavi and Andres Iniesta and led Bayern to the (7-0) drubbing of their rivals on aggregate.
The match-up also accentuated Schweinsteiger's importance to other members of his team. His terrific positional play allows stars such as Ribery and Robben the freedom to express themselves, thus bringing the best out of Bayern Munich.
Schweingsteiger narrowly missed out on European glory last year, losing to Chelsea in a penalty shootout and his return to the same stage at the very next opportunity highlights just how gifted a player he is.
One more dazzling performance against Borussia Dortmund this Saturday will complete the ascent of Bastian Schweinsteiger to the top of World Football.
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