There is something sadly appropriate about Bastian Schweinsteiger’s battle to prove his fitness for Germany’s Euro 2016 semi-final against France on Thursday evening and, at the same time, his generation game against the emerging force that is Paul Pogba.
Joachim Low’s captain did little to dispel the perception that he is fighting against the dying of the light during his hugely disappointing first 12 months at Manchester United last season, in which he managed a sum total of just 65 minutes of action for Louis van Gaal’s team after damaging ankle ligaments during the FA Cup third round victory over Sheffield United in early January.
At 31, Schweinsteiger has plenty of miles on the clock, and plenty of medals in his trophy cabinet too, but the sands of time are running out and it could be his encounter with Pogba in Marseille which sends those grains sliding further and faster than ever before.
If Jose Mourinho has his way, Pogba will be the dominant presence around which his United midfield will be built next season.
Van Gaal had the same plan in mind for Schweinsteiger having lured him from Bayern Munich last summer, but the German failed to perform for the man who acted as a mentor during his spell in charge at the Alianz Arena and, by the end of the campaign, had earned the scorn of his Old Trafford team-mates by disappearing from the scene during his injury lay-off.
The Premier League exposed Schweinsteiger’s lack of mobility and his spluttering engine, but nonetheless, he remains a prominent figure for the world champions and will anchor their midfield if he overcomes the knee problem that has left Low worrying about a team without either his experienced leader and the injured Sami Khedira against the French.
“I hope and wish that Bastian can make it,” Low said. “But one thing is clear, I will definitely not let anyone who is not 100 per cent fit play.
“It’s a really bitter blow when important players are sidelined at the crucial stage of the tournament.
“It was clear we would need Bastian over the course of the tournament. He did well against Italy, he worked hard and it was important to have his experience on the pitch.”
But even if fully fit, can Schweinsteiger roll back the years to keep Pogba in check at Stade Velodrome?
Twelve years on from making his debut for Die Mannschaft against Hungary in June 2004, Schweinsteiger stands to win his 120th cap against France.
He has scored 24 goals for his country – the most recent coming in stoppage time against Ukraine in the opening group game – and has undoubtedly performed as a latter day Lothar Matthaus for the Germans.
Yet at Euro 2016, Schweinsteiger has managed just 140 minutes over four games, in contrast to Pogba who, despite being dropped for the group game against Albania, has racked up 392 minutes over five games.
The 23-year-old’s goalscoring performance during the 5-2 quarter-final victory over Iceland on Sunday was his best display of the tournament and, having started the competition billed as a potentially dominant force, the Juventus midfielder now appears to be hitting form at the perfect time.
Schweinsteiger, all power and awareness, would have relished the clash with Pogba’s galloping stride and boundless energy during his pomp, but Marseille threatens to be a battle too far.
And nobody will be watching more closely than Mourinho, whose decision to hand Michael Carrick a one-year contract at United suggests that he has already settled on which veteran will be asked to bring experience and wisdom to his team next season.
It is difficult to envisage a Schweinsteiger future at Old Trafford under Mourinho, but it is easy to picture Pogba in the heart of the United midfield.
Schweinsteiger may have one last chance to prove that he remains the player he once was and it is not short on irony that that chance will come against the player most likely to phase him out.