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“We lacked winners”: How a shift in philosophy led the Chicago Fire to sign Xherdan Shaqiri

As Shaqiri was formally unveiled as a Fire player, sporting director Georg Heitz talked about his off-season strategy to bring more winners to Chicago

Xherdan Shaqiri smiles as Georg Heitz looks on during a news conference unveiling Shaqiri as a Chicago Fire player
Shivant Krishnan

“We lacked winners.”

Chicago Fire sporting director Georg Heitz didn’t mince words when he was asked about his philosophy regarding rebuilding the club’s roster during the off-season.

In Xherdan Shaqiri, Heitz has not only a superstar, but also a player whose roster is littered with some of the sport’s biggest championship trophies—the Premier League, the Bundesliga, and the UEFA Champions League twice, to name a few.

“To have not only Xherdan, we have other players who are winners, but Xherdan definitely has one quality: he’s a winner,” Heitz said at a news conference unveiling Shaqiri. “He has won a lot in his career. We wanted to bring a couple of really highly skilled players, and with also mentality. We need more confidence on the field, and we are really looking forward to seeing Xherdan, but also the other new players and the players who are still here to perform in the upcoming weeks.”

The Fire’s other major off-season signings all have experience on winning clubs. Rafael Czichos helped two German clubs earn promotion. Kacper Przybylko was the leading scorer of a Philadelphia Union team that won the MLS Supporters Shield in 2020. Jairo Torres helped Atlas FC win their first Liga MX title in 70 years.

And don’t forget new head coach Ezra Hendrickson, who has been a part of several championship teams in MLS as both a player and assistant coach.

All of that helped attract Shaqiri to the Fire.

“Georg came with a big project, and yeah, I was really excited. I wanted a new thing to try and so the opportunity came to come to the U.S. and to come to this club to help, to bring the glory back. This is my most important thing,” Shaqiri said. “I want to be successful. I want to bring to this club new goals and to be successful.”

Shaqiri holds up his new No. 10 Fire jersey with his new coach, Ezra Hendrickson
Shivant Krishnan

Heitz, who said that Shaqiri has gone from a “boy” to a “man” since the two last worked together at FC Basel in Switzerland, expects his star signing to lead on the field. The Fire have struggled with mentality over the last few seasons—rumors of fights during training, and major problems with mental mistakes and holding leads during games.

Shaqiri’s mentality will be just as important as his technical ability if the Fire are going to make the MLS postseason for the first time since 2017.

“Regarding Xherdan, it’s not only about technique,” Heitz said. “We all know that he’s technically very gifted, but it’s really about also leading this team together with other experienced players so that we feel more comfortable in the games this season.”

Shaqiri arrived in Chicago late Saturday, and has yet to really explore his new city. He mentioned that he hopes to check out some of the other pro teams in town, and maybe meet some players from other sports.

But that’s something for later on. For now, there’s a job to do.

“I came here not for holidays,” Shaqiri said. “I came for work, and to work for this club and to be successful. So I really want first to win something and then can enjoy more the city.”