The Xherdan Shaqiri era in Chicago is upon us.
Shaqiri, MLS's new superstar, was unveiled by Fire FC on Monday in his new city, addressing media for the first time since his $7.5 million transfer from Lyon went official nearly two weeks ago.
The 30-year-old Swiss international is the crown jewel of Chicago's rebuild, which they hope is fast-tracked thanks to his electric attacking talent. Shaqiri also immediately gives fans across the country, as well as those abroad, another reason to pay attention to and seek out the Fire.
“It’s a special day for us," sporting director Georg Heitz remarked about the No. 10. "I promise you Xherdan is the kind of player who will entertain you.”
Shaqiri left England's Liverpool for Lyon in the summer, but his French sojourn didn't work out quite as expected. He had two goals and three assists in 11 Ligue 1 appearances (nine starts), and both parties were ready for a way out. Shaqiri had a relationship with Heitz, who was sporting director at FC Basel when Shaqiri broke through and turned into a star.
“I was always a big admirer of MLS, many top players have played here," Shaqiri said. "The league is getting better and better, it’s a good league. I wanted to go away from France, then the opportunity came. Georg came with a big project, and yeah, I was really excited.”
There were reports that clubs in Europe made offers for Shaqiri as well, but Chicago got the deal done.
“It always difficult to sign any player," Heitz said. "If it’s easy, that means the player is not good.”
Shaqiri won three league titles with Basel before moving to Bayern Munich. In Germany, he won the Champions League and three Bundesliga titles – later he'd become a star at Stoke City before joining Liverpool, where he won a Champions League and a Premier League title. The "Cube of Power" says his relationship with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp remains strong, with Klopp sending him a congratulatory text after the transfer to Chicago went official.
"A special player"
Known for his ability to do the audacious, Shaqiri becomes one of the most exciting players in the league.
“In football, a player like Shaq is what we call a special player, a player with the ability to change the game in a second," said head coach Ezra Hendrickson, who arrived this offseason after being a Columbus Crew assistant. "It’s very good to have a player like that on the pitch. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to coach someone with this talent.”
With Switzerland already qualified for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Shaqiri looks forward to being fit and in form in the run-up to the tournament next November. Shaqiri, who has 100 caps with Switzerland, spoke with his national team head coach, Murat Yakin, ahead of the move.
In the meantime, he brings a history of winning to a club that hasn't done much of it lately. Chicago have made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs just twice in the last 12 years and last won a playoff round in 2009.
“I’m looking forward to working with this club to bring glory back to Chicago," Shaqiri said. "My goal is clear: I want trophies.”
Shaqiri is fit and ready for selection in the club's opening game at Inter Miami CF this Saturday (6 pm ET | MLS Live on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada | BetMGM odds).
“We lacked winners," Heitz added. "If Xherdan has one quality, it is that he’s a winner."
Who else beyond Shaqiri?
Shaqiri was the biggest move by Chicago this offseason, but far from the only one.
The club added defender Rafael Czichos from Bundesliga side FC Koln, rising winger Jairo Torres from Atlas FC on a $6 million deal, MLS-proven center forward Kacper Przybylko from the Philadelphia Union and much more. Shaqiri, Torres (arriving May 1) and Paraguay international midfielder Gaston Gimenez are their three DPs.
“It's exciting times, I think, throughout the organization," Hendrickson said. "We've brought in what we feel are like full quality players. And so the excitement is there, there’s some anticipation for the beginning of the season. I personally, I'm happy and I'm restless. I can't wait for the first kick on Saturday. So it's good times for the club."