The partnership between Fire owner Joe Mansueto and sporting director Georg Heitz had gotten off to a slow start. In two seasons, the Fire have averaged exactly one point per game and fielded forgettable teams with no star power and ability to attract new supporters.
On Wednesday, the Fire formally announced the signing of attacker Xherdan Shaqiri to a designated player contract that runs through the 2024 season. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but it’s believed the Fire paid French club Olympique Lyonnais around $7.5 million for the 30-year-old who has won Champions League titles with Bayern Munich and Liverpool. Shaqiri, who owns 100 appearances for the Swiss national team, is also expected to become one of the highest-paid players in MLS.
“We’re extremely pleased to formally welcome Xherdan Shaqiri to the Fire,” Heitz said in a news release. “Xherdan is a game-changing player and someone who will bring joy to our supporters and the city of Chicago. As one of the most accomplished Swiss athletes of his generation, Xherdan joins us at a very important time for the club and fully believes in what we are aiming to accomplish.”
If Shaqiri helps the Fire accomplish what they want both on and off the field, the big money they’re spending on him will be worth it.
On the field, the Fire had a glaring need for a proven attacker. Assuming he moves past his brief and underwhelming stint at Lyon, Shaqiri qualifies and should provide goals and dependable service for striker Kacper Przybylko. He will also be expected to take much of the creative burden off Gaston Gimenez, Jhon Duran and Stanislav Ivanov.
Perhaps more importantly, snagging Shaqiri and bringing in his name recognition is a statement of intent by the Fire, not to mention a use of Mansueto’s considerable funds. The signing is the biggest by the team since German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger came from Manchester United in 2017, and has energized a fan base needing something to get excited about.
And with the Fire still on the hunt for a primary shirt sponsor and hoping to draw more fans to Soldier Field, being able to use Shaqiri as a selling point won’t hurt. Well-known for his exploits in top European leagues and major international competitions, Shaqiri has 2.6 million followers on Instagram and 1.1 million on Twitter.
Even with Shaqiri penciled in as their starting attacking central midfielder, the Fire roster still isn’t complete and they aren’t guaranteed to be a winner in an always-improving league. They still have one designated player spot available and need more attacking options before the Feb. 26 opener at Inter Miami. But Heitz, who was at Swiss club FC Basel the same time as Shaqiri, has reversed two of the narratives around his Fire tenure this offseason by acquiring Przybylko (ignoring MLS talent) and now Shaqiri (not signing big-name players with drawing power).
The Fire could’ve gone numerous directions with their biggest designated player signing of the offseason. They needed a proven performer, but also somebody who would get people interested in the franchise again.
Shaqiri checks those boxes.
“Definitely going to help on the pitch, and we’ll see that once he joins us because he’s that good of a player,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “But I think off the pitch, it’s also going to help the organization.”