On Monday, the Chicago Fire officially announced that World Cup champion Bastian Schweinsteiger is making the move from Premier League to MLS, and has accepted a one-year contract with the Fire.
The 32 year-old is expected to join the club as soon as possible, following a successful visa application and physical examination, and could be seen on the pitch as early as next Saturday’s match when the Fire host Montreal.
Following the announcement of the acquisition, Schweinsteiger was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying: “Throughout my career, I’ve always sought opportunities where I hoped to make a positive impact and to help make something great. My move to the Chicago Fire is no different.”
Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic expressed the club’s excitement and anticipation toward the future with Schweinsteiger’s signing. “He can produce actions that few players in the world can do,” he said. “He sees (things) that nobody sees. He opens the eyes of the fans, where you can hear the people say, ‘Wow!’”
Yet, some have criticized the Fire’s move to sign the German footballer, specifically pointing to the disappointing recent season Schweinsteiger had with Manchester United, and the lack of pace and endurance in the aging midfielder.
It’s true, Schweinsteiger is almost certainly looking to the MLS as his final mark on the soccer world before he retires, and he was in fact demoted to the Manchester United reserves under Jose Mourinho in 2016 following an injury. However, Mourinho’s decision was heavily scrutinized around Old Trafford and throughout the soccer world, and Schweinsteiger’s late return to the starting lineup in United’s FA Cup match against Wigan in January netted him a goal and an assist in the 4-0 win.
The idea that acquiring the ex-German National Team captain will either hurt the Fire, or will fail to have any positive effect on the team, is ridiculous. As long as he can stay healthy, the midfielder is sure to have an enormous impact playing alongside recent USMNT addition Dax McCarty in the midfield, both in the attacking and defensive thirds.
For years the Fire have struggled with a defensive lineup that has seemed rather porous, to put it kindly, against opposing attackers. Last weekend’s 4-0 shutout loss in Atlanta proved that despite an otherwise optimistic start to the 2017 season, the gaps in the midfield are still there.
However, only a few years ago Schweinsteiger was widely regarded as one of the top defensive midfielders in the world, and his presence – coupled with the leadership of 121 German national team caps – will surely help to fill those gaps quickly. As evidenced in his performance against Wigan, the vision and soft touch of the Bayern Munich legend are still very much alive, and the thought that his pinpoint accuracy won’t lead to a number of assists with proven scoring machine David Accam is one that’s difficult to imagine.
Goals aren’t the only thing that are sure to increase with Schweinsteiger’s arrival, though. Toyota Park has seen its attendance drop further and further with each passing (and disappointing) season, and the long drive from the city doesn’t help the cause. Nonetheless, Schweinsteiger’s internationally-known name will undoubtedly fill seats, and moreover will generate a new buzz for Chicago soccer throughout the city – regardless of the team’s performance with him on the field in the first few matches.
“In the locker room, he will be a huge example of a champion,” Paunovic said. “He still is somebody that can show that on the field and (demonstrate) how our guys have to work, prepare, behave, think and work together in order to get to that level.”
Glimpsing what he has already accomplished, Schweinsteiger has 24 goals in his 12-year international career with the German national team, where he helped lead his team to victory 2014 World Cup final over Argentina. He played 13 seasons for Bayern Munich, and his time there included winning 2013 Champions League title and eight titles in the Bundesliga, Germany’s top division. He won league player of the year honors in 2013, and departed from the club for Manchester United in 2015.
Schweinsteiger will be one of the top ten highest paid players in the MLS, but won’t affect the Fire’s salary cap due to his single-year contract as a “Designated Player” – a rule that allowed other European soccer greats like David Beckham and Steven Gerrard to join their respective MLS teams at the end of their careers.