Xherdan Shaqiri and Fire sporting director Georg Heitz have known each other for more than a decade. Shaqiri launched his career at FC Basel when Heitz was part of the management of the Swiss club and trusted the executive of the Fire.
But Shaqiri wanted to clarify something: this relationship is not the reason he decided to come to Chicago.
“The project is the most important thing for me, which Georg and the club showed me,” Shaqiri told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I didn’t come because Georg is a top guy and I can go with him to the restaurant. It’s because of the club. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t come because Georg is my friend. I came for the draft, for the Chicago Fire FC.
“That’s for me the most important thing at the end of the day, to work hard on the pitch and to try with this team, together as a team, with Georg together, to succeed. That’s my goal, to bring that experience of Europe to give it to young players [and]experienced players too, to try to win games and give players confidence, to try to win trophies and to try to bring trophies to Chicago.
Officially signed on Wednesday to a three-year Designated Player deal, Shaqiri has a well-stocked trophy cabinet. An attacking player with flair, he won Champions League titles with Bayern Munich and Liverpool and was part of the 2020 English champions Liverpool that gave the famous Reds their first domestic crown in 30 years.
Yet in a response reminiscent of former Bayern team-mate Bastian Schweinsteiger – who had basically won every trophy worth winning and whose competitive hunger didn’t dissipate when he played for the Fire – Shaqiri wants keep collecting medals with the Fire and improving their game.
In fact, winning trophies with the Fire is something Schweinsteiger couldn’t accomplish, and it annoyed him as his time with the team slipped away. Shaqiri doesn’t want to imitate that.
“I’m always hungry for titles,” Shaqiri said. “I’m always hungry for trophies. That’s why I can’t wait to be there, to go to a new country, to also try to win trophies there, to be successful with my team and the whole club.”
This attitude was reflected in a conversation with coach Ezra Hendrickson before Shaqiri signed. Hendrickson said he saw how humble Shaqiri was, despite his name recognition and resume.
Perhaps most importantly, Hendrickson explained that Shaqiri wasn’t coming to The Fire for a vacation. It’s always a concern for some when a well-known European player comes to MLS in the second half of his career and receives a big salary.
“All the things he was saying when I talked to him, I think it’s going to be easy for him to fit in,” Hendrickson said. “We have a young team and he’s going to have to be patient with some guys. But I think after talking to him I can see that he’s a guy who’s going to come here and do whatever it takes to help us, whether it’s in defense, because we’ve talked about everyone defending as a team and we all attack as a team, and he sticks to it. So I think that’s going to help us all.
If Shaqiri is on his game, he will add another dimension to Fire. Slated to be their primary central attacking midfielder, the Fire will direct their attack through him. It wouldn’t be surprising if he took free-kicks, corners and penalties and became a focal point for defences. Shaqiri’s arrival is also key for new striker Kacper Przybylko. This answers the question of who would get the ball to the former Philadelphia Union player.
But Shaqiri, 30, knows his move from French side Olympique Lyonnais is worth more on fire than just on the pitch. Besides the 2021 home final when the Fire drew 31,308 fans, the team struggled to attract people to Soldier Field last season. They’re in a crowded sports market competing for eyeballs with more established franchises, and having players to watch is essential for the Fire to make inroads and reach the heights owner Joe Mansueto desires.
This is nothing new for Shaqiri.
“I think it’s a big chance and a big step forward from the club that they want to show the people of Chicago, [where]we know basketball right now and football and the NHL are more important than football,” Shaqiri said. “I want, and I think the whole club wants, people [to start]watch more football, but you have to succeed. It’s quite normal in this business, where you want people [be attracted more]football.
“I think it’s a big step from the owner of the club, that they want to push forward to be successful.”
Obviously, it’s very early in Shaqiri’s tenure, but early feedback seems positive. Instead of almost dreading the season, Fire fans are excited to see Shaqiri and the rest of the team kick things off later this month.
“I never thought Americans knew me so well and it was going to be like this, how’s it going right now [with]people are going crazy,” Shaqiri said. “They are really happy that I came to this club. I appreciate that, and I hope I can make them very happy on the pitch too. I know what I can do and I want to help this club go from the front.
“It’s also an important message for me. I came to succeed, to [work hard]and try to win trophies with this club.