Friends, you will have to indulge me on a personal journey this morning. In the early dawn of this new post-World Cup world, it's a monumental ask of me to report on tenuous transfer rumours, final thoughts on our dearly departed biter, or any of the other tidbits that pass for news when the media are distracted by bigger, more important concerns. It can't be done — exhausted from the sheer elation of Germany winning their fourth World Cup title, your humble scribbler would rather talk about the weird world of getting everything you hope and dream for.
Yes, this will eventually circle back to Liverpool. But first, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern Munich, and Germany.
Schweinsteiger is mein Lieblingsfußballer. I love no other — not even Daniel Agger — in the way that I love him. The fate of his teams is predetermined by his state of being, physically and mentally; if Schweinsteiger is off, the whole team is off. Playing vice-captain to Philipp Lahm's captain for both club and country fails to illustrate the full breadth of his leadership for both Bayern and Germany — Lahm is rightly the brains of the operation, but Schweinsteiger is the great thumping heart of both teams.
It's why I have such absolute heartache when results have come short for him, and for much of his career in the matches that matter they've come short.
With Bayern, you don't worry yourself over winning the league. Even if you don't win it one season (or even two), the title eventually works its way back to Munich. This is a club that has won the Bundesliga title nearly 50% of the time it's been awarded. It might seem unthinkable to have such a blasé attitude towards winning the league, but it's not the white whale that felt forever out of reach for me as a Bayern Munich fan. No, the white whale was the elusive Champions League title, won by Germany back-to-back-to-back in the 1970s and again in 2001.
Bayern Munich have reached three of the last five Champions League finals. It's an impressive record, but after losing the first to Inter Milan in 2010 and then the second to Chelsea in 2012 after Schweinsteiger himself missed Bayern's fifth and final penalty, the angst was building. This was the man who had the world's best clubs at his feet after his performances in South Africa in 2010, but who chose to stay with his boyhood club because winning Champions League with Bayern would mean more to him than winning it with Real Madrid ever could.
And so when Bayern finally beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final in 2013, Schweinsteiger's reaction was one of relief, rather than exuberance. Like much of the rest of his team, he played as if he'd been there before (he had, twice) and the final result seemed like the inevitable culmination of four years of hard work. He'd achieved everything he'd ever hoped and dreamed for, and he'd done it with the club he grew up with, the only club he's ever played for. A rare one club man.
My favourite football match of all time is Germany vs Argentina from the 2010 World Cup. Unsurprisingly, it's because Bastian Schweinsteiger gave a master class in midfield that should be the go-to performance in tactical manuals for years to come. Somewhat cruelly, my sister said to me afterwards, "You'll never see him this good ever again." Schweinsteiger is a talent, pure and simple, but on this day he was other worldly in a way that most players could never replicate a second time in their careers. Some people watch Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz when they're home sick from work; I watch this game.
Like many of his compatriots, Schweinsteiger was a two-time third place World Cup winner. There was fear going into this World Cup that if Germany fell short again, that it could be a blight on the otherwise phenomenal careers of players like Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, and Miroslav Klose. A world title was all I wanted for Schweinsteiger, who has given so much for his country and who deserves a win (insofar as anyone deserves anything in the world of football). The man turns thirty in two weeks, and on an increasingly young Germany side, there's a very real possibility that Brazil could be his last World Cup.
Yesterday's final was a rematch of the quarterfinal from 2010, with a decidedly different yet no less important performance from Germany's vice-captain. Whereas Schweinsteiger was pure class in performance vs Argentina four years ago, yesterday he was emblematic of the need to push on and fight to the bitter end. It was an emotional performance. Coming into the tournament recovering from injury, Schweinsteiger was a frequent target of some less-than-sportsmanlike challenges from various Argentina players as the game wore on, but he pushed through as if sheer will and determination would get Germany through to the end. It's not a performance that will make highlight reels, but it's one that served as an example to all his teammates to push on.
Schweinsteiger's reaction at the final whistle was miles apart from his reaction to the Champions League win last year. The openly joyous weeping bordered on emotional breakdown as various teammates and coaches embraced their spiritual leader. After earning back-to-back third place titles in his previous two visits to the World Cup, Schweinsteiger and Co. had finally won Germany its first world championship in twenty-four years. A catharsis. He'd done it. He'd achieved football immortality.
As a football fan, I've been lucky enough to witness two of the three things I want for the teams I support. I've seen Bayern Munich hoist the Champions League trophy for their fifth time. I've seen Germany become World Champions for the fourth time in their history. (Toronto FC, I have no hopes for you.) But with Liverpool, I remain empty handed.
The thing I want for Liverpool is the Premier League title. The FA Cup would be nice, and Champions League should always be an ambition, but like with Germany's world title drought, Liverpool have gone far too long without winning the league title. It's what I want for Steven Gerrard, a man who, like Bastian Schweinsteiger, is the absolute heart of the teams he plays for and who deserves so much more than what the last few years of his career have given him.
Most of us could absolutely taste the title at the end of last season. "Do it for Stevie" became a motto before "We go again" quickly overtook it, but the sentiment was the same: this could be the last realistic chance to go out and get the captain what he deserves and wants so, so badly. It wasn't to be, but it will be unjust if Gerrard retires without having helped win Liverpool its nineteenth league title.
You can't always get what you want, I've been told. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need. Liverpool's pre-season kicks off this week, and hot on the heels of Germany demonstrating that a player like Bastian Schweinsteiger can get both what he needs and wants in one fell swoop, there's little reason to not be optimistic at this point that this could be Liverpool's — and Steven Gerrard's — year too.