MANCHESTER: Bastian Schweinsteiger made his competitive comeback last night for Manchester United – while the manager who had tried to force him out of the club watched the 4-1 League Cup defeat of West Ham from an unknown location.
Jose Mourinho was serving a touchline ban after being sent to the stands for dissent during last weekend’s Premier League match against the same opposition.
With no danger of the two men being pictured in proximity in or around the pitch, Mourinho handed Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning captain a playing opportunity four minutes from the end of the match as a substitute for Anthony Martial.
The French striker secured victory with two goals early in the second half after former United player Anthony Fletcher had cancelled out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s early opener. Schweinsteiger had joined the game when Ibrahimovic wrapped up the scoring with his second of the night in stoppage time.
Schweinsteiger has not featured in a competitive game since Mourinho succeeded Louis Van Gaal in the summer. The last time he had featured was as a 70th-minute substitute at Manchester City in a 1-0 win on March 20. He made 13 Premier League starts for United last season, with five more as a substitute, scoring one goal (amid 31 appearances in all competitions)
Then, last week, Schweinsteiger rejoined first-team training work at Carrington for the first time since he was banished to train with the reserves and youth teams at the start of the season.
League Cup semi-finals: Liverpool v Southampton, Manchester United v Hull
The reasoning for his humiliation was unclear even then.
Mourinho had said on several occasions, on being asked about Schweinsteiger amid the team’s erratically unsatisfactory performances and results, that he had a surfeit of midfield players and even promising youngsters from the academy would be considered ahead of the 32-year-old.
Clearly Schweinsteiger, in the closing stages of an outstanding career, did not have the ‘legs’ or energy to suit the style of play demanded by Mourinho. This was not his fault. He was signed by Louis Van Gaal who had a very different stylistic vision for United.
Even then, at his age, Schweinsteiger appeared to be the wrong player in the wrong club at the wrong time but players possess their own self-confidence and very few would dream of turning down Manchester United.
In the event Schweinsteiger was omitted by Mourinho from this season’s Europa League squad registered with UEFA but he made his Premier squad comeback as an unused substitute against West Ham last weekend.
The high cost of ‘carrying’ Schweinsteiger has already been alluded to in the club’s annual accounts. But if the owning Glazers, executive vice-president Ed Woodward and/or Mourinho had hoped that turning Schweinsteiger into a non-person would provoke him into walking out then they misjudged the man. Badly.
Schweinsteiger has proved himself a class act, offering only praise and encouragement to the club and the first team in public and on social media.
He has also apparently made the most of his enforced break by improving his skills at golf while enjoying time he would not have expected to spend with wife Ana Ivanovic whom he married during the summer.
What happens now remains uncertain.
Uli Hoeness, a friend of Schweinsteiger and newly-returned as president of Bayern Munich, has said that the player should make the financial most of his United contract as retribution for the club’s treatment of him.
The most likely scenario is that Schweinsteiger is being reintegrated to step up his fitness and visibility ahead of what must be everyone’s preferred option which is a move out of Old Trafford in the January transfer window. It has been suggested United might even help ease the way financially.