If the last 18 months have taught Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez anything, it’s that criticism is going to find its way to his doorstep no matter what.
The acquisition of German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger from Manchester United is no different. Schweinsteiger signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with a mutual option for a second year.
But investing so heavily into Schweinsteiger, 32, and into a position where coach Veljko Paunovic already has plenty of options, has raised eyebrows. Rodriguez is hopeful Schweinsteiger, who will fill a Designated Player slot, will join the team by the middle of next week, which would make him eligible to play against the Montreal Impact on April 1 at Toyota Park.
According to The Guardian, Schweinsteiger had 15 months remaining on his contract with Manchester United. Rodriguez said Tuesday that the Fire did not pay a transfer fee to acquire Schweinsteiger’s services.
Rodriguez said that Schweinsteiger is “at another strata” than other top performers the Fire have had over their 20-year history. Rodriguez called the signing a historic moment for the club, which hasn’t qualified for the MLS playoffs since 2012 and which had the league’s worst record each of the past two seasons.
Rodriguez believes Schweinsteiger can be a game-changer for a long-suffering club in the midst of a three-year rebuilding plan.
“Bastian brings with him an entirely different standard and level of excellence and expectation,” Rodriguez said. “This is a call to our entire club that we need to step up our game and meet that challenge and meet that level.”
Yet for all of Schweinsteiger’s success, which includes a World Cup title with Germany in 2014 and a Champions League title with German powerhouse Bayern Munich in 2013, how he will fit with the Fire has yet to be determined.
Schweinsteiger’s passing ability and knack for cracking opposing defenses will open up scoring chances for David Accam, the Fire’s top player over the past two seasons. But his presence also calls into question what role Schweinsteiger will play in an already crowded midfield that includes Michael de Leeuw, Juninho and former New York Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty.
Rodriguez acknowledged that fitting all of the pieces together will require time as will allowing Schweinsteiger to “top off” his fitness level after not playing on a consistent basis with United. But given the rebuilding mode the Fire are currently in, Rodriguez said adding a veteran like Schweinsteiger was more conducive to the environment than investing similar money to more younger players.
While many view the acquisition as a marketing ploy to use Schweinsteiger’s global reputation to lure a frustrated fan base to Toyota Park, Rodriguez insists nothing could be further from the truth.
“We make decisions for soccer reasons. We make decisions to try to win games on the field. We make decisions to try to build a championship program,” Rodriguez said. “In this case, it would be foolish to deny there are a lot of ancillary benefits to having a personality, a character and a history that comes with someone like Bastian Schwein-
steiger. But this is a soccer decision. This decision was made by [Paunovic] and me and we should be judged by that.”
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