The Fire added their top striker target in Nemanja Nikolic this morning. A transfer fee and three-year contract for Nikolic lands him in Chicago to start the 2017 season. Nelson Rodriguez spoke to media this afternoon from Poland where the deal was finalized.
Nikolic will occupy a Designated Player spot and an international roster spot.
Here is a full recap of the call:
Rodriguez on the acquisition of Nikolic
"Earlier today we completed the signed documentation for the transfer of the playing services of Nemanja Nikolic from Polish league champion Legia Warsaw to Chicago Fire. Nemanja was one of our top priorities this offseason and a player we had been tracking for the better part of seven to eight months. He represents one of the types of game-breakers that we sought in the offseason. He's a champion, having won titles in Poland and Hungary. He is a four-time golden boot winner and one of the most prolific scorers in recent years in Europe. A player whose character is unimpeachable. He has an insatiable desire to score goals and to win. We are thrilled to add not only his talent, but his character and personality to our locker room. We feel that this is the first step in an offseason that we have carefully orchestrated and feel very good about securing his services in advance of the Holidays."
On the next steps for the Fire
"We set out to try in the offseason to find a game-breaker, a boss, and some help in central midfield. Some of those could overlap one another. Nemanja is a winner on and off the field. This is how he approaches his craft and how he is viewed by his teammates and coaches. He may very well turn out to be the leader, or one of the leaders that we seek in the locker room but we still need to improve our central midfield. We feel that with Niko, as he is commonly referred to here in Poland and some of our other attacking pieces that we should be able now to dependently rely on and consistently score some goals. We'd still like to add some experience to the central midfield area and that will be our focus in the remainder of this offseason."
On Nikolic adjusting to MLS
"He's already switched countries and switched leagues. He's a player and a person with a great deal of pride. He left Serbia to try his hand with a second division club. With Hungary he eventually has been capped. With the Hungarian National Team, he was a top scorer there and a champion there. He then has moved on to Poland with Legia, where his scoring and strike rate is borderline astronomical. We have a belief that goal-scorers score goal and as long as one knows how to utilize those talents appropriately that should not diminish. We have a high degree of confidence in the fact that he has already adapted to different countries, different playing styles, different languages. It makes us believe that he will adapt to Chicago and Major League Soccer. While we are confident in his ability to adapt, we must always be patient with new signings. It is still a man and a human being who has a family. He'll need time to adjust culturally. His English is excellent. Far better than both by Polish, Hungarian and Serbian, which he also speaks. We feel really good today about what we've been able to accomplish."
On combining with Michael de Leeuw
"We actually think that they will be extremely complementary. I say things but I don't partake in spin and time will tell. Michael is a very active and busy player who prefers to play underneath another forward. Nemanja does his best work in the box, but having said that is very mobile with a very high work rate. Nemanja is comfortable playing alone or playing in tandem with another forward so we think that versatility will lend itself, not only with Michael, but with our other returning attacking assets and still with some others that we are hopeful of signing. We see his versatility in his game as an asset as to how we which to play."
On progress made toward adding midfield help
"We have three primary targets. We believe we are making progress against at least two of those. We are working aggressively to close whichever one we can first. Acquisitions in the offseason can change for better of for worse very, very quickly. We're satisfied with where we are in our attempts, and our discussions, and our negotiations but we will not stop until we have success."
On the Sean Johnson trade
"When we made the decision to trade Sean we had in front of us a few different opportunities and options. In the end, we may the decision to move Sean to Atlanta. We did so because we thought we received fair compensation but we also did so because we have a value of family within our club and within our team. Sean has been a very good and loyal servant of this club. We felt that merited some special consideration. We thought that providing him the opportunity to return to his native home so that he could play in front of family and friends might be special, so we made our choice on that basis and we respect all the other choices that came thereafter. If we left something on the table, perhaps so. I don't know that to necessarily be true but I know it meant a lot to me that Sean called when he learned of his subsequent trade to New York City to thank us. I appreciated that and I told Sean on that call, and I meant it then and I'll repeat here - he will always be a part of the Chicago Fire family. He will always be positively remembered as a hero to the club and to the fans and when his playing career is over, we hope and expect that he will want to remain and active part of our club in some way."
On the pursuit of Nikolic
"When we opted not to fully participate in the summer window, it was with an eye on moves such as today. Our last year, I would say February-March-April, we pursued a different player from the Polish league and in that process we began to come to a realization that this was a league that we felt was highly underrated, that it was very relatable and transferable to Major League Soccer. It has tremendous crowd support. There's a great intensity in the matches in this league so we began to follow it more closely. In that course we noticed Nemanja and his abilities. We tracked him. We had Matt Pearson, our scout see him play live twice this fall and then Pauno went to see him play live at the conclusion of our season as well. The live reports married what we felt we had been observing through video and through following full games on television and online. Our character reports were very positive, and then Pauno's conversation with Nemanja, and mine, really convinced us of the character of the individual. This was a significant signing. There was many other suitors for his services and many other offers that Legia Warsaw had received. In the end, we are privileged and considerate an honor that Nemanja selected us as much as we selected him. For me, a big part of his character was revealed in that we had actually agreed to terms prior to the last game before the break here in Poland and frankly, the player risked a lot but he felt he owed to his teammates, to Legia Warsaw, and to the fans to play in that last game before the break even though nothing was signed. He not only played, but he scored a hat-trick because he wanted to leave as the top scorer and he did so. He wanted to leave his club and his teammates, and the fans here with a positive impression and it was his way of saying thank you. We find it completely in line with his professionalism, his championship pedigree, and his winning mentality."
On the report $3m+ transfer fee
"We never reveal the financial conditions, but it was a seven-figure transfer fee. It is a three-year contract for the player. It is a significant financial commitment being made. We believe that this is a big piece of our present and our future."
On MLS Re-Entry and league players
"The second phase of Re-Entry is Thursday. We have been exploring some possibilities in the draft. We have been speaking with the representation of some players and some players directly. We have not yet made a final decision as whether we will look to select a player or not and we're also examining some offers that we've received for the number one second stage Re-Entry position. We admittedly put that on hold over the last twenty-four hours. Pauno, the staff, and I will resume those conversations tonight my time, this afternoon Chicago time and we'll look to make a decision. We are active in conversations on players within MLS currently."
More on scouting Nikolic
"It came from watching Polish league games. We had been impressed in particular, by the way Legia Warsaw played. They are a team that absolutely goes for goal and believes in trying to score. There were a few players on this team that we had been tracking. As we looked at our team needs and our desire to increase our goal productivity, Nemanja's scoring rate and his approach to every game in which he played kept sticking out for us. After our first game of the season last year, a game in which we lost to New York City at home, a lot was made of our defense and the fact that we surrendered four goals but I remember looking at that game I remember think, very distinctly that we left three or four other goals of our own wanting. I think what Nemanja brings to us now is that player who at any moment, with the slightest break or opportunity, can find the back of the net. We believe he will continue to do so and we believe that will give our team a level of confidence and belief that may have been lacking ever so slightly last year."
On the pursuit of Bastian Schweinsteiger
"We always respect players that are under contract to other clubs. We do not comment on players who are under contract to other clubs so I will not speak specifically about our interest or non-interest in any player who is under contract who is under contract to another club. I will more generally say that we would like to add a more veteran presence in the midfield. Preferably someone with championship pedigree, who has won. Someone who is comfortable with the ball under pressure and can either play us out of the back or break the line to advance the ball to more forward positions. We'll continue to monitor those players that we feel have those attributes. We are going to aggressively pursue at least one player who we feel shows those qualities."