Bastian Schweinsteiger, star German midfielder and defending World Cup champion, has continued his meteoric career by signing this year with the Chicago Fire. The technical gifts and finesse he brings to MLS come hard-earned over a long path to North America.
To trace Schweinsteiger’s flight path to Chicago, we can start by going back to his boyhood and first professional club, Bayern Munich. That’s where he started as a 14-year-old youth player, moving to the first team at 18 and playing for 13 trophy-filled seasons.
In his time there, of course, he was also an anchor for the German national team featuring many of his Bayern teammates, eventually winning a World Cup title in 2014. But soon Schweinsteiger journeyed to England to play two seasons with Manchester United, before moving to Chicago earlier this year.
Here’s a look at how travel and soccer has opened his eyes to the diversity of the global game.
Bayern Munich, 1998 - 2015
At age 14, his parents posed young Schweinsteiger a choice of a sport to pursue seriously over his summer break.
"It was the summer of 1998, and my parents were asking me what I wanted to do: Skiing or soccer in Munich. I had to choose between the two sports. Just thinking about skiing … I had to wake up early all the time, it was very cold sometimes, there’s a lot of stuff to carry around. So I said, let’s try to play at Bayern Munich."
Just four years later, Ottmar Hitzfeld called him up to the senior team reserves. Despite the nerves, Schweinsteiger steeled himself for the challenge of one of the top teams in a tough league, the Bundesliga.
"I was of course nervous. I didn’t know how to call the plays. But to be there, driving to the bus to the stadium for the first time, seeing the jersey in the locker room for the first time, the first time when I came onto the pitch — these were all special moments I’ll never forget.
I remember the first years it was not so easy for us. We won titles, but you could lose.
In years after that, we could control the Bundesliga more. Obviously, later on, Borussia Dortmund had a great team. We played the Champions League final against each other in 2013, and we won. I don’t know if this ever happened before, with two Bundesliga teams playing against each other.
We developed our style of soccer, and the club grew a lot. Later on, after my first Champions League final in 2010, we played two more, and we always reached the semi-final after that.
I remember in the beginning of my career, we couldn’t really play the finals or semifinals. We couldn’t really say we were the best team in Europe. And later on, there were three or four other teams in the Bundesliga who could be the best in Europe.
Also, playing with Thomas Muller and Philipp Lahm was, of course, a very good experience. We all grew up around Munich. We knew the mentality of Bavarian people. It was important for the supporters, having homegrown players like us. It’s my hope that more and more players from the youth team can become part of the first team."
Germany national team and 2014 World Cup win
By age 16, Schweinsteiger had earned his first cap with the German youth national team – and by 2004, he made his way to the senior national team, leading all the way up to the team’s legendary, victorious run at the 2014 World Cup.
Many consider this World Cup squad – which included the likes of Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Mario Gotze, and Muller and Lahm, among many others – to represent a golden generation of German players. Schweinsteiger, though, took this star power in humble stride.
"Of course, you have more fun when you win matches, but for us, it was fun to play for the national team. Of course, in certain moments we were focused and serious, but we needed a bit of fun in our game, and we started quite young. I think it’s important for the players to have a good mix between seriousness and fun."
It had to have been fun, of course, to serve in key moments that led to their victorious campaign, ending with a 1-0 win over Argentina in the World Cup final.
Schweinsteiger would continue to represent his country until the 2016 Euro tournament, before announcing his retirement from international soccer later that summer.
Manchester United, 2015 - 2017
After 17 years at Bayern Munich, Schweinsteiger created news waves around the global sporting world when he transferred to Premier League titans Manchester United. His first impressions? The sheer size and enthusiasm of the team’s global fan base, and then of United’s long history of victory.
"It’s huge! There are supporters all around the world. I started the preseason in America, in Seattle. You could see a lot of supporters there. We started great [in the 2015-16 season]; we were first in the standings.
My first match with the team, when I came in against Newcastle, the response of the fans was so good. Then later, after a long period after not being able to train with the first team, I came into the match against West Ham in one of the Cup games. That crowd was also so good."
The Chicago Fire, 2017 - present
After two years at Manchester for Schweinsteiger, the Chicago Fire came calling – and the icon found himself intrigued by the MLS life from the team’s early overtures.
"I had great talks with [Chicago Fire GM] Nelson Rodriguez and I was following MLS a bit on TV, and saw the potential for this league. Since coming here, I can say it was the right decision to come here.
It’s been so interesting. I think that this league has a huge potential, and I’d like to see, in a few years, for it to be equal to the top leagues in Europe. It has to grow step by step.
I’m very focused on the Fire. We have to work on our game style, on winning points. I’m very happy to be here. It’s a new chapter in my life, and I look forward to every single training session. You learn every single day something new, from coaches, from staff members.
I’m learning a lot about the mentality of people in Chicago. It was absolutely the right decision for me. I’m very happy to be here.
Of course, I want to win titles and want to win games, but sometimes, that’s not the most important thing. For me, it’s important that people remember me as a good person.
I want to help the players here; if they need advice, I want to give them as much as I can, from what I’ve learned in my career. If we can, say, reach the playoffs this year, it would be amazing. I have a feeling that in MLS, everything’s possible."