Commentary: Bastian Schweinsteiger Can Be an Influential Fire Player
Last week, the Chicago Fire completed the long-awaited deal to bring German international icon Bastian Schweinsteiger to MLS. Schweinsteiger signed for the 2017 season with a mutual option for 2018. His salary for this season was reported to be $4.5 million, making him the highest-paid player in club history. The midfielder represents the first high-profile player to join the Fire since Cuauhtemoc Blanco in 2007.
It didn’t take long for the naysayers to offer their criticism of Schweinsteiger’s arrival: he’s too old, he’s too injury-prone, he’s a bad fit in a crowded midfield. Typical of the negative reaction was this piece written by Nate Scott at Fox Sports. Is such a reaction valid? Can a team who has “won” the Wooden Spoon two years running really turn their back on a player like Bastian Schweinsteiger?
There are a lot of reasons to think why Schweinsteiger can be the latest asset on the Fire roster who will help engineer a reversal of the mediocrity that has left the Fire without a trophy since winning the US Open Cup in 2006. Despite the potential pitfalls of signing Schweinsteiger, the essential question that must be answered is, “Can he play or can’t he?”
Schweinsteiger is too old
While it is true that MLS has seen an influx of younger Designated Players the last two years, deeming that the 32-year-old Schweinsteiger is only ready for the scrap heap is extremely short-sighted. There have been quite a few 30-plus players who have entered the league recently and who have been significant contributors for their clubs: Didier Drogba (37 when he entered MLS), David Villa (32), Jermaine Jones (32), Kaka (31), and Jelle van Damme (32). These players have demonstrated that, in many cases, age is just a number. Schweinsteiger is not coming here on his last legs.
It’s also true that Schweinsteiger has played a lot of professional matches in his career, 360 for Bayern Munich and Manchester United, plus another 121 internationals for Germany. But he has essentially been on paid vacation from Manchester United this season, so it’s probably been a good time for him to recharge his batteries.
Schweinsteiger’s age could be a bigger factor if he sought to continue his career at the highest level of competition. But his current level of fitness and the demands of MLS may well be a very good fit.
Schweinsteiger is injury-prone
Schweinsteiger list of injuries is extensive, but the knocks are mostly of the minor variety. With a large number of matches under his belt, the injuries can accumulate. His injury history is a cause for concern, but the Fire are only committed to Schweinsteiger for this season. If he is unable to stay in the lineup consistently, Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez will need to be on the prowl for a new DP in 2018.
Given Schweinsteiger’s recent low level of activity, it could be an opportunity to let old wounds heal. Bottom line, injuries can affect any player, any time.
Schweinsteiger is a bad fit in a crowded midfield.
The notion that the presence of Dax McCarty and Juninho as holding midfielders in the Fire’s lineup is a reason to not bring in Schweinsteiger is the most untenable of the anti-Schweinsteiger arguments. A healthy Schweinsteiger instantly becomes the Fire’s best player, period. Who would not want to upgrade their player pool with a player of Schweinsteiger’s caliber?
How to make all of the pieces fit falls to coach Veljko Paunovic. We’ll never know for sure whether Rodriguez felt a sense of urgency to bring in McCarty and Juninho once it became clear in January that United wanted to hang on to Schweinsteiger, but it would have been utterly foolish for Rodriguez to have told Schweinsteiger’s agent, “Sorry, we really have no place in our squad for Bastian, because we now have Dax McCarty and Juninho on the team.”
Intelligent players who have a high level of skill are certainly going to be adaptable. Germany won the World Cup in 2014 with a back four comprising players who are normally centerbacks, so Schweinsteiger, McCarty and Juninho are capable of finding a way to be effective in the middle of the team to link defense and attack. This situation is the same one that every soccer coach faces, finding a way to get the best eleven players on the field together.
Blanco instantly hoisted onto his shoulders what had been a moribund 2007 Fire team. Similarly, Arne Friedrich utilized his wealth of talent and experience to marshal the Fire’s defense in 2012. Schweinsteiger has the potential to be a dominant influence on the players around him in a similar fashion. He can set the tone for a winning mentality and can help younger players make the jump to be competitive professionals.
Can Schweinsteiger play? The answer is clearly “yes.” The risk for the Fire is relatively low and the potential for success could go through the roof.