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Fire20: Arne Friedrich

With the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger imminent, we look back at the career of our previous big-name German star

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Welcome to Fire20, our weekly series celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club by making deep dives into the team’s history. This week we remember Arne Friedrich, who remains a beloved figure among fans to this day.

On Tuesday, former Bayern Munich and German international Bastian Schweinsteiger signed for the Chicago Fire, leaving behind Manchester United after two lackluster seasons.

The move— one that was expected by Fire supporters for many weeks— was a statement of intent from Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez and the rest of the Fire organization: Chicago will no longer be bottom feeders. The transfer came later than many people had expected, and has seen mixed emotions among Fire fans.

One emerging theme over the last few days is the outpouring of praise and support for Schweinsteiger from the soccer community. Many big-name players and organizations from across the world have been sharing their support for the German superstar.

Yet Basti is not the first (and hopefully not the last) German star to sign with the Fire. His most notable predecessor, Arne Friedrich, has high hopes for his one-time Die Mannschaft teammate.

Friedrich first praised Schweinsteiger for his choice on Twitter:

He went on to praise Basti further in German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

“I am delighted for Basti,” Friedrich said. “Basti will help the team on the pitch. And for the media he has the appeal of a World Cup winner. He will moreover help Chicago Fire to get the club and its surroundings to a new level.”

It only seems appropriate that we take some time and reflect upon what the former German star did for the club, given that we are about to see what the current German star will do.

Friedrich joined the Fire in 2012 after an illustrious career in Europe. The versatile defender played at German clubs Arminia Bielefeld, Hertha BSC and Vfl Wolfsburg, making 293 appearances in all. He also earned 82 caps with the German national team, participating in the 2004 and 2008 European Championships, as well as the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

On March 7, 2012, Friedrich signed to the Fire as a free agent. In his time in Chicago, he made 23 appearances with 22 starts, scoring one goal in 1832 minutes. In 2012, the once German international took home the club’s Defender of the Year award, and many people saw him as the sure-fire (pun intended) leader of the Men in Red for 2013. Unfortunately, Friedrich suffered some long-term injuries and did not make an appearance for Chicago in 2013.

On June 23, 2013, in an announcement that was met with deep sadness and a near-total lack of surprise, the German defender announced his retirement.

Friedrich’s impact on the Men in Red, however brief, was indisputable. His ability as a defender is something that has not been matched by another MLS player since his retirement. The bone-crunching, yet delicate tackles he delivered and the aerial presence he provided made him invaluable on the pitch.

But his impact on the club was so much greater than that. Logan Pause, another Fire great, believed Friedrich’s mentorship to other Chicago players would leave a lasting impact on the club.

“We only had the joy of having him on the field for a brief time,” Logan Pause said in an interview with the club’s media team. “Our record last year speaks for what he did on the field. I think we’re going to see his finger prints on this team for years to come.”

Among those players that Friedrich left an impact on were Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry. Two players that had intricate roles in the backline of the 2012 and 2013 Fire teams.

“He was always the first to give advice in a very constructive, positive way,” Berry said. “He was just a natural-born leader on the field through communication and through his play. He meant a lot to this team.”

I find myself wondering about what could have been if Friedrich would have been able to continue to play with the Fire. He was a source of stability that the club has been lacking over the last half decade, and having him around might have molded the last few seasons to be less, wooden-spooney.

Don’t believe me about either his on, or off-field importance? Watch this touching tribute video the club produced for him. It’s not often that players get such a resounding “Thank You!” after just one season at a club.

Friedrich was indisputably a stud while playing in Chicago. Here’s hoping that Basti is just that same.