Schweinsteiger sets his sights
© AFP

He may be only 23 years old but Bastian Schweinsteiger has been one of Germany's top footballers from some years now, and made a real name for himself on the international stage at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.

November 2002 was when it all started, with 18-year-old Schweini making his first-team debut for Bayern Munich in a UEFA Champions League match against Lens. A month later, the future international signed his first professional contract.

Since then, he has risen to the status of Fussballgott or 'footballing god' among the fans and an integral member of the Bayern team. He was struck down by a series of injuries and illnesses at the end of last season, suffering from problems with his knee and then even going down with Lyme disease, but he is now fighting fit and well on the way to winning his fourth Bundesliga title in six seasons.

The lynchpin of the Bavarian giants' midfield, who has also been a regular for Germany since mid-2004, winning 48 caps, spoke exclusively to FIFA.com on his hopes for success in 2008 with both club and country.

FIFA.com: Bastian, Bayern Munich have been top of the Bundesliga since the opening game of the season. Can anyone stop your march towards another title?
Bastian Schweinsteiger: I don't think that anything will be decided before the 30th round of matches, but we will be doing our utmost to put some distance between ourselves and our nearest rivals, Werder Bremen, SV Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen.

On the European front, you will be facing Anderlecht in the UEFA Cup. What are you expecting from this tie and how far are Bayern hoping to go in this competition?
In terms of player quality and potential, Bayern ought to beat Anderlecht, but they are after all the team which has won the most Belgian league titles and we had trouble with them a few years ago, particularly in Brussels (in 2003/2004, Bayern played Anderlecht in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, drawing 1-1 away and winning 1-0 at home thanks to a Roy Makaay goal). Bayern really should aim to make it as far as the final in Manchester.

Let's look at things on a personal level. This is your 10th year with Bayern - what does it mean for you to play for one of the most successful clubs in world?
I'm proud of it. It's an honour to be able to play for a club as famous as Bayern. What it means to me is what I can achieve for the club - helping them to become even bigger and more successful.

You are still young with a number of years still ahead of you as a professional footballer. Are you looking at having a career like Raul, who has been at Real Madrid for 14 years now, or would you like to move to another club or try your luck abroad?
I'm hoping to be part of a big team here in Munich and maybe captain them later on. Playing abroad at some point obviously appeals, but only once I've achieved all I hope to with Bayern.

Competition is fierce in Munich. What is your role in coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's team alongside the such big names as Franck Ribery, Ze Roberto, Hamit Altintop and Mark van Bommel?
I relish the competition - it improves the quality within the team even more. And if I'm fit, I play.

Former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be taking over at Bayern Munich in the summer. What do you think of this decision?
Taking on Jurgen Klinsmann was a very good move for Bayern. Not because I know him from the national set-up, but because he will change a few things here in Munich and implement some new measures - and this will do the team and the club some good.

You made your debut for Germany on 6 June 2004 against Hungary, and since then you have amassed another 47 caps and become a key figure in Joachim Low's team. How do you see your role in the national team?
I see myself as an experienced international who is growing into a leadership role. And in the future, I'm obviously looking to enjoy some real success with Germany and score a lot of goals. The next big target is the EURO.

You have been drawn against Poland, Croatia and co-hosts Austria in that tournament, how do you see these teams?
The Poles will be dangerous, as we already saw at the World Cup. The Austrians have a squad full of fighting spirit and may be able to use their home advantage to spring a surprise or two. The Croats are the ones that I see as our main rivals for the group. They have some technically gifted players and quite a few tough characters.

Which teams do you see among the favourites at the European Championship, and how do you estimate Germany's chances of winning the title?
We have every chance as long as we play to our full potential. Otherwise, I see Italy, France and Portugal among the real favourites.

Then in September, qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa starts in a group with Russia, Finland, Wales, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein .
Russia and Finland will be two very hard away games - and they will be our toughest opponents in the group. The other teams should not in any way be underestimated and we will have to be mentally focused when we face them.