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How Bastian Schweinsteiger won Jose Mourinho over to return to Man United

Stewart Robson discusses Jose Mourinho's approach when dealing with Manchester United's squad.

To suggest that Bastian Schweinsteiger has climbed a mountain to work his way back into Manchester United's first-team squad in recent weeks would be something of an understatement. He hasn't reached the summit yet by any means, with Jose Mourinho once again overlooking him for his matchday squad at Everton on Sunday, but the fact that he was even in contention is an achievement in itself.

Not only has the German persuaded Mourinho to admit he was wrong to banish him to the reserves during preseason, a time during which he also told Schweinsteiger, 32, that he would not play for United again, but Schweinsteiger has also won over a group of sceptical teammates who had begun to believe that the former Bayern Munich midfielder was treating his move to Old Trafford as little more than a highly paid favour to Louis van Gaal.

Sources within the United dressing room have told ESPN FC that Schweinsteiger was regarded as letting the team down last season when, after suffering a knee injury in the FA Cup third-round victory over Sheffield United in January, he made just four more appearances (totalling 65 minutes) having failed to fully recover his fitness in the closing months of the campaign.

After aggravating the problem on international duty, one source claimed "we never see him during the week" as Schweinsteiger was given permission by Van Gaal to undergo treatment and rehabilitation back in Munich before returning to watch games at the weekend. It only served to further annoy some senior players when the player was photographed attending tennis tournaments with his wife, Ana Ivanovic, before going on to regain enough fitness to captain Germany to the semifinals of Euro 2016.

So the prolonged ovation given to Schweinsteiger by the Old Trafford crowd last Wednesday, when he ended his first-team exile with a substitute appearance during the EFL Cup win against West Ham United, was a development no-one could have anticipated. It was a shock; the World Cup winner was told by Mourinho's staff in July that he would have to use the reserve-team dressing room at the Carrington training ground from that point on because, to put it bluntly, he had no future as a United player.

United and Mourinho did all they could to accelerate Schweinsteiger's departure -- the club encouraged interest from AC Milan and a number of MLS clubs -- but with two years left to run on his contract, the player held out and chose to stay even though the club had already written him off as an asset in their annual accounts. According to United sources, Mourinho had made his mind up about the midfielder before he even arrived at Old Trafford: The former Chelsea manager's doubts over the German's fitness were exacerbated by those stories of unrest in the dressing room.

With Mourinho casting him into the wilderness and bridges to build with senior players, there really looked to be no way back. But with a month to go until the January transfer window, Schweinsteiger has become the Comeback Kid and Mourinho admitted last Friday there is now no guarantee that he will be sold next month.

So how has it come to this? How has a player so far out of the picture been able to work his back in?

Mourinho will not publicly admit he made a mistake but there is now an acceptance within Old Trafford that the manager misjudged the strength and quality of the squad he inherited from Van Gaal. When he told Schweinsteiger he didn't figure in his plans, Mourinho knew that Paul Pogba would soon be on his way from Juventus to bolster a midfield that also contained Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick. There was also Daley Blind's versatility (the Dutch defender is capable of stepping into a holding midfield role) and so in Mourinho's eyes, Schweinsteiger was seventh choice in a battle for two positions.

Jose Mourinho says despite conceding late, Manchester United displayed yet again that they were the better team by far.

It was also about Mourinho making a statement to his squad, warning them that he was prepared to be ruthless with even the biggest names and reputations, but United sources have now revealed that the manager has identified weaknesses both in midfield and in the psychological make-up of his squad that prompted him to draft Schweinsteiger back into the first-team training set-up last month.

Mourinho is concerned by Schneiderlin's ability to perform at the level required for United and by Fellaini's limitations. Although he's an admirer of Carrick's experience and ball-playing qualities, the manager accepts that the 35-year-old cannot be relied upon to play every week.

In Schweinsteiger, however, Mourinho knows he has a player who possesses the experience to provide an option whenever Carrick, Herrera and Pogba are not available. But Mourinho has also come to realise that the German's leadership and top-level knowledge are much-needed in a squad lacking those qualities.

Carrick and Wayne Rooney aside, the United squad lacks leaders and strong characters; Schweinsteiger ticks both boxes. And by working away quietly without fuss or recrimination since being banished to the reserves, Schweinsteiger has impressed Mourinho and those teammates who doubted his commitment just six months ago. He has perhaps played a clever game by regularly posting updates on social media of his matchday trips to Old Trafford, but Schweinsteiger has ultimately won the fans over by showing that he is willing to fight for his United career.

Mourinho is also a pragmatist who will use every tool at his disposal to get a result. Nobody could have seen it coming but it is a credit to both men that Schweinsteiger is now ready, willing and able to contribute to United's season.

Mark is a Senior Football Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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