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|Third goal: Schweinsteiger fast coming of age|
|29.02.2004 | Ahead of Saturday's meeting with Wolfsburg, Bayern reserve coach Hermann 'Tiger' Gerland wore a smile as wide as the proverbial beast after which he is nicknamed, suggesting he already knew Bastian Schweinsteiger was set to play for the senior eleven. By his own admission, Gerland always takes particular pleasure from one of 'his' lads appearing for the first team.
However, Schweinsteiger's name did not originally feature on Ottmar Hitzfeld's team-sheet: he was drafted in as a last-minute replacement when Owen Hargreaves strained a groin during the warm-up. The Germany U-21 midfielder has now appeared in 15 of Bayern's 22 Bundesliga fixtures this term, ten of them in the starting line-up.
In a solid 90 minutes against the Wolves, the 19 year-old again underlined his reputation as one of the brightest prospects at the club with a hard-running, assured and combative display. "He showed he's on form," Hitzfeld said approvingly after the youth equalled Makaay and Ballack with four shots at goal.
The crowning glory finally arrived with 15 minutes remaining, Schweinsteiger collecting Willy Sagnol's cross during a counter-attacking raid on the Wolfsburg box, neatly cutting inside defender Patrick Weiser and firing across keeper Saed Ramovic into the far corner. A wild celebration followed the youngster's third goal of the season, although he brushed aside his joyful team-mates until he had run all the way to the half-way line where Oliver Kahn had come out to greet him. Why the 50 metre dash, he was asked later.
The explanation was not long in coming. "At half-time Olli said to me, 'you'll score today son, you scored in Wolfsburg so you'll score here as well.' So I just said, 'OK, whatever you say. Let's do it," the player nicknamed 'Schweini' revealed.
The strike in the corresponding fixture before Christmas was Schweinsteiger's first-ever Bundesliga goal, but he now says the shine was taken off the occasion because Bayern fell to a 3-2 defeat. "I was angry about that," he confessed, but it was a different story on Saturday: "His goal crowned a great display," Hitzfeld commented.
The starlet has settled well into the senior squad and earned respect from the established professionals. "He's not under any pressure, he has all the space he needs to develop," observed Michael Ballack, predicting a glorious future for his midfield colleague: "If you can make the breakthrough at Bayern you've got to be a candidate for the national team."
Ballack was only echoing the words of superstar Roy Makaay, who told a newspaper during the mid-season break: "At Bayern we have a player in Bastian Schweinsteiger who could turn out to be one of the greats, not just for Bayern but for Germany too" – a comment bound to bring another smile to Hermann Gerland's face.