Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A 30-year-old European star for a big-name club, still in his prime, leaves a top overseas league to come to MLS. It happened with Lorenzo Insigne, and now it’s happening with Xherdan Shaqiri. The former recently penned a contract with Toronto FC, while the latter is very close to joining Chicago Fire FC, per Fabrizio Romano. Shaqiri, a Swiss winger with an eye for goal, is already being lauded by Fire supporters as the team’s savior. Could he bring the sort of star appeal that Bastian Schweinsteiger did a few years ago? Or could his move ruin the Fire in the long term?
Analyzing Xherdan Shaqiri’s Suspected Move to Chicago Fire
Who is Xherdan Shaqiri?
One look at Shaqiri’s CV and you see why Fire fans’ expectations are so high. He’s played for Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, and Liverpool, among others. Though he was a rotation player at each of these prestigious clubs, he still had some fine moments. His best years, however, came at FC Basel in his native Switzerland, and later at Stoke City, who at the time played in the English Premier League.
Internationally, Shaqiri has earned 100 caps for the Swiss national team, scoring an impressive 26 goals. He’s represented his country at the highest level, appearing in three World Cups and three European Championships.
Most recently, the 30-year-old played for OL in France’s Ligue 1, where he scored just two league goals across 11 appearances. He’s only been at the club for six months, but it seems things aren’t working out too well for either party.
What Are the Logistics of the Transfer?
Shaqiri joining the Fire would have serious financial implications for the club. The board would have to produce around $7.5 million for the transfer itself, per MLSSoccer.com. This may be pocket money to top European clubs, but to the Fire, it’s an investment the likes of which they haven’t made in years.
The wage bill would soar too. Shaqiri currently earns $89,050 a week in France, and it’s unlikely he’d be drawn to Chicago if it weren’t for a salary increase. If the Fire were just to match what Shaqiri is earning right now, it would be more than double the amount of what their highest-paid player (Robert Beric) received last season.
Finally, Shaqiri would occupy one of three Designated Player slots in the Fire squad. With little to go before the season gets underway, this may be a gamble worth taking. Still, it would be unwise to not try and find a few players with lower wage demands and transfer fees.
Do the Fire Even Need Shaqiri?
This seems like an absurd question to ask. How could they not need a top European player? Who could possibly be better? No one could, that much is true. But out of the squad currently being assembled by new manager Ezra Hendrickson, attackers are the most plentiful.
Striker Kacper Przybylko, who is MLS-proven, just joined the team after three years with Philadelphia Union. 22-year-old winger Stanislav Ivanov is finally injury-free and raring to start banging in goals. Another winger, 18-year-old Jhon Duran, recently completed his long-awaited move from Colombian side Envigado. In a typical 4-3-3 formation, Shaqiri starting in his natural position would mean sacrificing the development of either Ivanov or Duran, neither of whom deserve to be benched.
Having a player of Shaqiri’s caliber could also be deadly to the Fire’s chemistry. Relying on one player is known to be ineffective. There are plenty of examples here in MLS. Just look at Wayne Rooney at DC United. The English striker was prolific in his three years in the capital, but his team’s over-reliance on him was costly. United never went further than the first round of the playoffs during Rooney’s stay.
For a rebuilding team in particular, the focus should be on bringing in more young players and keeping finances stable. Even beyond Duran and Ivanov, there are so many homegrown forwards that deserve a chance this year. Missael Rodriguez comes to mind first. The youngster finished the 2021 MLS NEXT Cup as the Golden Boot winner in the U-19 division, netting eight goals in five games. Shaqiri in the squad would essentially guarantee Rodriguez won’t get a chance this season. He and countless others would be demoted to the third-tier MLS NEXT Pro.
There’s certainly an argument to be made in favor of Shaqiri moving to the Fire. But the negatives are being overlooked. Signing a player like this now could be costly in the years to come, especially if the winger doesn’t stick around for too long. He hasn’t played much soccer over the last six months, and no one should be surprised if he gets off to a slow start in MLS. Perhaps most importantly, the team’s tradition of developing top homegrown players to star in the first team would be put on hold.
The Fire board need to change course. Now is not the time for big-money signings. Now is the time to give the new manager a crop of young players to work wonders with. It’s a time to build faith in local talent. It’s a time to offer Chicagoans a look into the future, one where playoff runs are a common occurrence. There’s no place for Xherdan Shaqiri in that future.