Jose Mourinho’s motivation in restoring Bastian Schweinsteiger to training with the Manchester United first-team squad remains as shrouded in mystery as many of the manager’s other team selection decisions.
The 32-year-old joined in first-team work at Carrington on Monday morning for the first time since he was banished to train with the reserves and youth teams at the start of the season. The reasoning for his humiliation was unclear even then.
Mourinho has 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 Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning captain.
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 and thus could not figure against Fenerbahce in last night’s 2-1 defeat in Turkey; he could hardly have done any worse than some of his colleagues.
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.
In August he tweeted: “MUFC will be my last club in Europe. I respect other clubs but Manchester United was the only one which could make me leave Bayern Munich. I will be ready, if the team needs me. This is all I can say about my current situation. I want to thank the fans for their amazing support over the recent weeks.”
Since then Schweinsteiger 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.
The other senior players were pleased to welcome back Schweinsteiger among them. There was a big hug from captain Wayne Rooney – who also has selection opportunity issues with Mourinho – and positive comments from others including left-back Luke Shaw.
The England defender said: “It’s great to see him back. He’s a big influence in the dressing room and obviously on the pitch, especially for the young players like myself. It’s a great boost for us, with the experience and the quality he brings. I’m so glad to have him back.”
Schweinsteiger has not featured in a competitive game since Mourinho succeeded Louis Van Gaal in the summer. The last time he 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)
What happens now remains uncertain.