The six-year itch

At the 2006 World Cup, Schweini and Poldi became Germany’s newest heroes. Now, one is the undisputed maestro, the other a bit-part player.

sports Updated: Jun 01, 2012 01:45 IST

It was during the 2006 World Cup that people around the globe got to see Germany in a new light. The sun shone for weeks from an almost cloudless sky, the country's population was in a joyful party mood and the Germany team played wonderfully, yet ultimately without success - if you're minded, that is, to regard third place in a World Cup on home soil as a lack of success.

In short, the Germans, their weather and their footballers behaved completely the opposite to the way that they're often said to behave. And nothing fitted better into the easy-going mood of this summer fairytale than "Schweini and Poldi" with their boyish charm. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski: the magic of 2006 made them appear heroes of a new, uninhibited Germany, like two playground pals in football heaven.

When the Germany squad takes their place this summer as one of the tournament favourites at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, Schweinsteiger and Podolski, now both 27, will be there. However, their roles and their importance within the team have changed in very different ways. While Schweinsteiger - a certain Mesut Ozil aside - is the undisputed maestro in the Germany midfield, Podolski is now allowed no more than a bit-part role as the player with the strong left foot has to fight off strong competition in his position from André Schürrle of Bayer Leverkusen.

Growing pangs
The past six years have not always been plain sailing for Schweinsteiger either. After the 2006 World Cup he seemed to have ensconced himself in his comfortable life at Bayern. His agent, Robert Schneider, says: "A good player already earns a lot of money at Bayern early on. That was perhaps what the chairman, Uli Hoeness, was alluding to when he talked about Bastian always having had things too easy."

Schweinsteiger was a regular starter at Bayern, but other players were pulling the strings. The image of the prankster Schweini, which had helped him and Podolski to achieve nationwide popularity at breakneck speed, now became a curse. It was an image of a footballer who did not want to grow up. As he keeps improving on the pitch, his reputation off it is also changing. For some time now, Schweinsteiger has asked to be called by his full name.

According to some reports, Germany's biggest tabloid newspaper, Bild, is said to have done a deal with Schweinsteiger's management team not to refer to him as Schweini any more. It is not serious enough. "At the start of my career that nickname helped me a lot," he says. "But everyone moves on. I'm a different person now." Podolski still has yet to prove he has moved on from Poldi.

First Published: Jun 01, 2012 00:47 IST