basti fire inside

The Fire Inside: Danke Basti

And then there’s Basti.

As we gathered at Soldier Field on Tuesday morning, to contemplate the start of a new era for the Club, another era was coming to a close, as Bastian Schweinsteiger announced his retirement.

I remember sweltering in Rio watching the ebb and flow of a tense World Cup final in 2014. At one point in extra time, I watched a prone Schweinsteiger lying on the sidelines, as he was hastily stitched up to see out the game after a brutal Sergio Aguero challenge — the latest in a series of such attempts to nullify Schweinsteiger from a physical Argentina team. Even from the far side of the Maracana Stadium you could see his leg twitching in pain, but when Schweinsteiger returned to the field, he picked up as if nothing had happened — winning and passing the ball with unerring accuracy, and more than any other player, driving his team forward to win the World Cup.

It was the essence of Schweinsteiger: grit with grace; intense battling in the moment with a vision for the moments ahead of him; that eerie sense that he was above the battle, even as he cropped up in every flashpoint. He was immense.

And those qualities remained undiminished as Schweinsteiger wrung every ounce of competitiveness out of his career. For those of us watching him these past seasons with the Fire, it was often in awe at the sheer efficiency of how he handled an ever more deep-lying role with such cool. If he no longer had the pace to chase down attackers pursuing a chance, he had the controlled composure to read and intercept at close quarters, and root potential chances out before they developed. How many times did our hearts skip as Schweinsteiger took the extra touch as the last defender, to coolly take an over-eager striker out of the frame.

And then that silvering head would go up, that powerful leg would swing with the perfect action of a master craftsman (his kicking action is to football what Severiano Ballesteros’s swing was to golf), and his teammates would set off in pursuit of a 60 yard switch of play. Even in the most ragged of games, Schweinsteiger could find moments that were glorious.

At some point though, even the greatest of players have to be honest about whether those moments can keep coming frequently enough for their own high standards. It’s a deeply personal decision and this week Bastian Schweinsteiger confirmed the decision to leave the field on his own terms. He’ll be missed in Chicago. On a day the Club looks forward to a bright future, one of its brightest stars is stepping into his own future beyond the field, with all our best wishes.

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