With Bastian Schweinsteiger expected in Chicago tomorrow and officially presented on Wednesday, the talk over the last week has been all about the Fire's newest acquisition. With that in mind, as we await word on his P-1 visa status, here's a full recap of Nelson Rodriguez's tele-conference last Tuesday after the announcement of his signing was made:
Nelson Rodriguez opening statement
"Obviously, this is a very big day for our club and I also believe, for Major League Soccer in announcing that we've acquired the services of one of the great champions in all of sport, Bastian Schweinsteiger. I would be remiss if I didn't start the call by making a few thank yous. The first is to our ownership group. More for their continued trust and faith in the plan that Pauno and I have laid out and in supporting us in pursuing that plan as we try to build a championship program. I also feel that we need to thank Manchester United, who were very gracious in all of the dealings. Ed Woodward and John Alexander, as well as a few others at that club were particularly helpful, and we're grateful to them for allowing us to acquire Bastian at this time, so close to the commencement of our season and while they were still competing for Champion's League positioning and other trophies, so thanks to Man United."
"I'm excited by the announcement, but I also want to temper that excitement by just saying that this is part of the plan that we laid out. We had spoken in the past of a three-year vision. We've spoken in the past about adding those Designated Players as the final pieces. This is a unique situation. It is not often that you can add a player of Bastian's pedigree, but more important someone that we feel is the perfect embodiment of the club we are, and the club that we continue to aspire to be. Bastian is a gentleman, a sportsman, but no one doubts his ability and his character. Obviously, no one can take away the championship nature of his performances. We are of the belief that this move will make us a better soccer team. It improves our locker room and our quest to continue not only to add a leader, but a role model. Someone that all of our players, not just our younger guys, like Djordje Mihailovic or Matt Polster, or Brandon Vincent, and Jonathan Campbell, but even guys like Juninho, and Dax, and Nemanja, and Michael de Leeuw can look to and see how to model themselves in order to achieve the highest standard of excellence."
You called this a historic moment for the club. Where would you rank this acquisition among the moves that the club has made?
"There have been other great players that worn the red. Players like Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Hristo Stoichkov, Peter Nowak, and let's not forget some great American players like Chris Armas, Ante Razov, CJ Brown, Logan Pause, Brian McBride. We've also had great coaches like Bob Bradley, but with respect to all of those people, I think Bastian is just another strata. It's a result of him having won with every team at which he played. He's captured every major trophy for which he's contested and there's not too many people in all of sport who can make similar claims."
"I also think that society is different today. Social media has connected us in ways that some of those other people didn't have the opportunity to connect. I recognize that difference, but with today's global age he is a global image, and his football is still pretty damn good."
How would you characterize the process of courting him and then signing him?
"Smooth. I think this is a reflection, again, of him. I think it's a reflection of his representation. I think it's a representation of how Manchester United conducted itself and allowed us to proceed in these discussions. I think it's a reflection of ownership supporting what Pauno and I are trying to build, and how we're trying to build it. This was smooth. It was long but part of that was in part due to Bastian's desire and insistence to remain with United for as long as he could. He had goals there. He wanted to meet more of those goals. He won a championship last year, there with the club but over time I think we are able to convince him that our challenge was one that was uniquely suited for his skill set and his experience. We're grateful that he has chosen us."
Why now, rather than earlier?
"We would have preferred it earlier. We would have preferred it before the window closed in England, in January and in preseason but United for good reason was reluctant to let him leave. They were still competing on all fronts and they still regarded Bastian as a valuable member of their club. I think over time, maybe we were able to wear them down a little bit with our persistence. Their calendar is probably thinning out as they get closer to the end of the year, but we did reach a point where we said it had to be now or it wouldn't happen. As we've stated in the past, the summer window is a very difficult time to introduce players and have them be effective for the remainder of the year."
"Bastian is a special case as a person and as a player. I don't want to say it was an ultimatum because I think that would be unfair and untrue, but we made it clear that if we couldn't close it now then we would likely move on. The three parties came together to make it happen."
Is there a contract option?
"There is a mutual option for the following year. Both sides have to agree. One of the things we talked about was trying to keep this first deal relatively simple so that we could conclude it as quickly as possible and get him into wearing our shade of red. I think it speaks to Bastian's confidence in himself and his commitment and his trust in Pauno and me and our club's overall vision to agree to a one-year deal."
Do you see this deal benefiting the team more off the field than on in hopes of drawings fans, media attention, and marketing opportunities?
"I hope not. We make decisions for soccer reasons. We make decisions. to try to win games on the field. We make decisions to try to build a championship program. In this case it would be foolish to deny there are a lot of ancillary benefits to having a person with the personality, a character, and history that comes with someone like Bastian Schweinsteiger. This is a soccer decision. This decision was made by Pauno and me, and we should be judged by that."
Do you understand the skepticism about the signing in light of MLS' move toward younger DP's?
"I would say that people like to jump on hot flashes. There's also a history within the league. A history within the context of all of sports. That matters, and it shouldn't be ignored. Just this year, you had Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both at 35 years old win Grand Slam titles in impressive fashion. Just this year, you had a 39 year old Tom Brady win a SuperBowl."
"People want to project upon Bastian what they want. He's old. He's 32 years old. He was playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. When he was asked to play, he was able to perform at a very high level even though he wasn't getting regular minutes. When David Beckham came, he was considered old at the same age of 32 yet he helped the Galaxy win two more Cups. Guillermo Barros Schelotto was 34. I don't even know if people called him old or didn't realize what his age was but he helped the Columbus Crew win three more championships. In Chicago, we have Michael Jordan who won two MVP titles, if I'm not mistaken at 33 and I think 35 years of age. It's relative to the individual."
"As we watched Bastian, and we did in the matches that he was playing for United, despite the fact that it's difficult to be at your best form when you're not getting a regular run of minutes, he was still able to perform and impact the game. That's what we're looking from him, for us."
"I also know that there's a current trend that the only way to (find) a successful number 10 is to go to Argentina and find a number 10 fairy tree that sows you a South American 10, and that's the only way that you can have a 10. I'm not saying that Pauno is going to play him in the 10 role. That will be Pauno's decision, but there's a lot of different types of playmakers that can impact the game. Andres Iniesta, I don't think anyone considers a 10, yet he finds a way to impact the game. Luka Modric isn't a classic ten, yet he finds ways to impact the game. Bastian Schweinsteiger is a great player, with great vision and phenomenal soccer IQ and a wide history in his own game. People forget that he started almost as an heir apparent to Pierre Littbarski on the wing as a wide midfielder and he terrorized teams and opponents from that position. Now he doesn't have the same speed, and the same physical elements to his game that he did when he first started as a teenager, but the rest of his game has grown. We believe he will make an impact on the field for us. I would say that people should be wary to underestimate the heart and character of a champion."
What does Schweinsteiger provide that you don't currently have on the field?
"When we looked to improve last year's team, among the elements that we looked to improve was our ability to not only hold the ball, completion percentage, and overall possession rate but also the ability to split lines, to get behind lines and split defenses. Bastian, from a wide range of positions, from a wide range of distances, short and long, can unlock defenses. We believe he will be very helpful in that regard. Beyond that, he's a player that you could play the ball to under pressure with a comfortable assurance that he is going to be very difficult to dispossess, if at all. These are just some elements. Though he can deliver on free kicks, he's not a prolific scorer but he has a knack to score and he is a good shooter from distance. He'll force teams to defend us a little bit differently. We are very much looking at his soccer IQ, and his ability to help our overall attacking elements of our game. (Those are) the primary reasons why we opted to acquire his services."
Did you get the feeling or did Bastian convey any frustration with Manchester United and Jose Mourinho?
"Not at all. Bastian had nothing but good things to say about his experience at United, about his relationship with his teammates and his coaching staff. He clearly had a great affection for the fans as well. I'm sure, knowing the competitor that he is, although I'm not looking to speak for him, of course I can imagine that he felt he could have played more or should have played more and wanted to play more but he did not exhibit frustration. In fact, some of the length of this process was due to his insistence to wanting to remain at United and prove himself even more valuable than he had been able to show."
Why are you so confident that he is fit and ready to go?
"No player will be at their physical peak unless they're playing 90 minutes regularly. We understand that Bastian will need some time to top off his optimal fitness level. That said, based on the performances we saw against quality opposition, when he was called upon to perform he was able to perform, and to perform well. That speaks to his professionalism. It speaks to how he maintains his physical state. It speaks to his experience and understanding his own body. He also takes comfort in the wide range of different sources that we spoke to in checking his background from people he worked with, including some folks who had knowledge of his training habits and medical history. In fact, there were more people who thought that this brief respite in time, because he had been playing pretty much over 30 matches a year up until this past year, might serve him well because he had been going at it hard for 17 straight years. This has probably given his body and his mind a chance to rejuvenate itself. There are no guaranteed but there are no guarantees for a 25 year that comes into the league either, that he will be as fit as he needs to be or maintains that fitness, or not suffer an injury. All those things are equal for all players. Perhaps the risk gets a little bit greater as you get older, but I think Bastian over the duration of his career has demonstrated himself to always be ready at the call."
Was it important to have the German community in Chicago represented?
"No. Not for me. We don't look at ethnicity. We don't look at size. We don't look at age. We look at, are they good players? Are they good people? Do they fit with us? That's a big question because often times there are good people and there are good players, but we don't think they're the right fit. The soccer public across all of America and Canada has figured out that you can't pander to them through ethnicity. That's the way to win a one day headline and a one day story, but it's not the way to win their hearts and minds long term. People respond to good soccer, to winning soccer, to commitment and passion on the field at matches and that commitment is given in the stands. For those reasons, I know our fans are going to love Bastian."
When will Bastian arrive in Chicago and when will he play?
"I cannot say with certainty because we are still involved in the P-1 visa process through the US government. It is our hope that he may arrive as early as midweek next week. If he does, that would make him eligible and available for the April 1st game. We'll have a better sense of that as we get towards the end of this week and Monday of next week."
Can you describe your three year plan?
"When Pauno and I came on board, we laid out for our ownership a 3-year vision and a 3-year plan of remaking the team and in the process helping fulfill our owner's vision and commitment to the club. That requires, first and foremost incorporating what we consider to be the right types of people. We broadly characterize that as we want givers. We want individuals who will hold themselves accountable to the highest standards first, then look to support and nurture those around them second before asking for anything of and for themselves. We look for givers. As we looked at the club we took over, last year was a difficult year. We made some difficult decisions. We bled a lot of young players. We were the second or third youngest team in the league. In that process we acquired a lot of assets and resources that are germane and specific for use within Major League Soccer. That was done with a design and with an eye to make acquisitions as we have done this year with the Designated Player signing and the transfer from Legia Warsaw of Nemanja Nikolic, the acquisition of two proven MLS all-stars and best eleven caliber players in Juninho and Dax McCarty. (Along with) Those joint acquisitions we had made before from Holland in Johan Kappelhof and Michael de Leeuw, as well as other known players to us like Arturo Alvarez."
"The third stage of this process is creating a winner's mind set. Last year we suffered a lot, particularly in the last 10 or 15 minutes of the game. At the conclusion of the year we made the evaluation that the team was learning how to compete, but had not yet learned how to win. With the incorporation of someone like Bastian we are trying to accelerate that mentality that is so important that can convert draws into wins, and losses into draws."
"That in a very broad way, are the details of the three year plan. I will also briefly say that it was intended to be constructed in such a way that at the end of that third year we still had a core of players with whom we could move forward. The history of MLS shows that the successful teams and that teams that are able to sustain winning are the ones that have between 7 and 9 core players that they can count on on a yearly basis."
Was there a resolution with Manchester United over wages for Schweinsteiger and his remaining contract?
"I have no idea. I can't speak to what his earning were at United. That's none of our business. We're not privy to that. We're not privy to any relationship or how his departure was from United other than he was appreciative of the club, of his teammates, of the staff there, and supportive of the fans. We don't comment on contractual details of compensation on our end. I'm afraid I can't answer that question."
Would you say people like Pirlo and Kaka have helped the level of MLS?
"There's no question in my mind. They would boost the level of any league that they entered. I think it's important for young players to be able to see that level in person, live, and on a regular basis. These are all players who are world class talents. They would be coveted by teams all over the world. It's undeniable that they helped improve the standard of play in MLS."
What have your discussions with Pauno involved regarding what position he will play? Was there talk about where he would play on the field?
"Pauno and I clearly had those discussions. We were comfortable in that regard. I'm loathe to say number 10 or otherwise, again because those conjure up preconceived notions. I would also point out that Bastian played an attacking midfield role for Bayern in some of his last years there to great effect. We're talking about a player whose versatility, whose intelligence, whose dominance of the ball allows him to play a lot of different roles. I think that we all tend to fall into traps and want to define players in a very small way. Some players can transcend those definitions by virtue of their versatility. I think Bastian is one of those guys. I also think it's important to note that Pauno is not afraid to change and to have a team that's adaptable to circumstance or to try to take a proactive positions with opponents by surprising them with a new look. Players with the intelligence like Bastian help in that regard. They help carry out that tactical mission on the field, irrespective of the space they take up on the field. I think those are important elements and ones that I think will be positive contributors to our team."
Do you see Schweinsteiger freeing up Accam for opportunity to focus more on just the attacking side of the game?
"It's an interesting question. First I want to say that I think that through the first three games of the season, David - who has arguably been the best player for the club over the two previous years, has played some very good complete football. David has really improved his work on the defensive side of the game. He is combining better with players and I think David appreciates now that there are more weapons that the team has, which prevents opponents from just concentrating on him."
"Bastian's defensive help will certainly provide a little more freedom for David, but Bastian's passing ability, vision, and passing range will more likely benefit David than even any more defensive work that Bastian does. I think that we'll have more players who can find David in advantageous positions more frequently."
Was there any pause about inserting him at this stage in team's development?
"It was a question that we asked of ourselves initially. Our first approach to United came late summer, early fall of last year. We were trying to think and look ahead. At that time, while granted permission to make contact with the player's representative and the player, we were kindly asked to wait and see how things went. Ultimately, we pursued Bastian harder because he is rather singular. He is rather unique in all of that vast experience that he brings along with the attitude and willingness to share it - the desire to try to make things great, not simply better."
"I spoke to the office staff earlier this morning. I mentioned to them, that I'm sure for many that our job just got easier. Easier to sell tickets, easier to sell sponsorship, easier to sell merchandise but in reality our job just got harder. Bastian comes with him with an entirely different standard of excellence and expectation. This is a call to our entire club that we need to step up our game and meet that challenge, and meet that level. What drew us more and more to Bastian the more times Pauno spoke with him and the times that I've spoken to his representation or met with him directly, was the fact that we felt we found a willing contributor. Someone who wanted to collaborate. Someone who had the spirit of generosity of being a giver, who is going to help us achieve our owner's vision for the club of excellence, of respect, all manners of integrity and dignity."
"There is an old sports adage in America that nice guys finish last. He is a genuinely nice man, and he does not finish last. Ultimately, I'm sure there are other players around world who we could point to who on the field might make a more immediate impact but none that we felt held all of our values and our approach, and understood the challenges of our current situation and was still not only willing but eager to come aboard and to help us try to fulfill our vision and the creation of a championship program. It's a longer answer, but it's how we felt about him and how he made us feel about him."
Do you feel that this is the single move in which yours and Pauno's regime will be judged?
"I can't speak for Pauno, but I have thought about that. When I was granted the opportunity to fulfill my dream job and take this one. I also knew that given my age, this would be it. If we didn't achieve success, the likelihood of my being able to stay in professional soccer was going to be severely diminished. I think ultimately, we'll be judged by wins and losses, however I have thought of this proposition as being the chief decision, if you will. I would say this....if I have to go down, and I go down with one of the greatest champions in the history of soccer, I'll feel pretty good that I made a good choice."
"I suspect that Bastian is going to make me a better pro and a better general manager. He's going to make us all better and in the end I think we'll look at this and say this was a signal moment where our ambition and our vision caught up with our hopeful execution to make us a global club."
Do you still think you have work to do on this roster?
"There is never an end. You are never done building your team. Your are never done improving. The process is continuous. Whether or not we're able to make more moves, I don't know. We will try. A lot of that depends on circumstance. A lot of that depends on timing. In this instance, and we debated this as well, would we be better served by trying to improve other areas in general depth, along the back line, and maybe just finding some other piece for the midfield, or do we have a chance to try to transcend our project and our club. Obviously, we've opted for the latter. No one should view this as a final move. No one should view this as a last piece because the process never stops."
Will Michael de Leeuw float out to a wide role now?
"I would just say that I don't think people should make an assumption as to how we're going to line up or play or what role we're going to fill. I think that we have to allow this team to come together. We should allow this team to play together. We have to allow competition within the team to determine who plays. We've said this in the past, particularly regarding younger players and homegrown players but it now applies to veteran players as well. You have to earn your minutes. That's the only way that we know to run this properly. I'm not prepared to say that Michael is going to play wide right. I'm not prepared to say that Michael is going to play just as I'm not prepared to say that anyone else is. It's got to be earned in the eyes of the coaching staff on the training field and then validated by performance on the game field."
Was Ana Ivanovic involved in the decision at all? How will club help the couple integrate in Chicago?
"I can't say for certain how involved Ana may have been in this decision. I would like to think, being married myself, that these become family decisions in general. Upon Bastian's arrival, we can certainly pose that question to him. In terms of his integration, we will look to integrate Bastian just as we look to do for all of our players whether they are drafted out of college and just entering the league, whether they've been acquire via trade from another team in the league, or whether they are internationals. We have a great group of support staff that help in this regard and we're confident that they are going to immediately love the City and its people, its culture. I think they'll be taken with the fans and the warmth and the friendliness that defines Chicago. In turn, I think the folks of Chicago are going to be in for a treat in seeing that it's reciprocated sincerely by Bastian and Ana."
What's the benefit of bringing in Schweinsteiger at $4.5 million over younger impact players which seems to be the trend in MLS?
"I don't think it's one size fits all. I think every team needs to do what it feels is in its best interest. I think every team is at a different stage of its evolutionary cycle. Since I've been here, this club has been criticized for not investing, for not getting the big guys. Now we're being criticized for not getting the young guy. What's important is this, we have to recognize that we haven't won. We have to recognize worse than that, that we finished bottom two previous years. I'm sure that a young guy coming into that environment can help us build a new culture. I think champions can. I think winners can. We are not in the same position as an expansion team or a team that's had ten years of continued success. We're in a different moment in time. What this job requires is net and people who have been through battles. People who know how to triumph, who have had to overcome. People with experience. I also think that just by adding Bastian we're not done but it doesn't make us old. Dax, Juninho, Nemanja, Johan, Michael are all well in their primes. We've become a more seasoned team but one that is still very much in its prime and one that still has a lot of young players that know have the benefit of learning from the experience of one of these other guys."
How far does this go toward winning the hearts and mind of frustrated fans and those who have stopped following?
"First, we have to recognize that the frustration is logical and to be expected. It's hard to support and suffer for something that in return only gives you more suffering and pain, and we understand that. It's part of why, in such a short time, I love Chicago and I love its sports fan because through it all, through 108 years or 2 years of misery the fans keep coming out and they keep pouring their heart and soul in and they're so supportive. They're not booing the players. They're trying to rally them at all times. I think that all we can do to try to win back some of the hearts and minds that we lost and revitalize those that so patiently and ardently support us is by first giving everything that we have for 90 minutes every game. Second, it's winning. It's winning. It sounds easy and it's going to be difficult to achieve, but there's no substitute. I don't think if we brought over three young guys who were really fancy but we continued to lose, that would solve anyone's woes or suffering. It's going to be winning and it's going to be working with the same attitude and ethic that the folks of Chicago do for themselves in their daily lives."
How does this signing affect ability to work within the budget? Is there still room to add more players?
"We do. It makes it more challenging because it will force us into an economic profile of a player that is not as vast if we hadn't made this move but it doesn't stop us from adding another player or two. It just forces us to swim in some different waters."
Are those moves more likely in this window or in July?
"It's ongoing. It doesn't have to be outside of MLS. It can be within MLS. It can be within the US/Canadian soccer structure. We'll continue to work at it and see if we can find something that fits and works for us."
Was there a transfer fee involved or was he released from his contract with United?
"We did not pay a transfer to acquire his services this year."
How do you compare the impact of this signing to the signing of Blanco?
"They're different eras. When Blanco came, social media didn't really exist. There was no Twitter and Facebook and all of those things. Saying nothing badly about Blanco, who was a great figure in the history of soccer in Mexico and in the history of the Chicago Fire, but Bastian is on another level. When one wins a World Cup and all of the other things he's won he has to be recognized as an international and global star. With that said, I'd have to say that Bastian is the most significant player ever signed by the Fire."
How do you change the team's status going forward?
"We have to win. We can't keep waiting or intending to win. He have to win and demonstrate to the public that we're serious."
Why now for this signing?
"We wanted to sign him earlier but Manchester didn't want to let him go. While England's window has closed, our window remained open. This impacted our ability to sign another player. In February, when we talked to the and the club and let them know that if we couldn't close the deal in less than 30 days then we would move on. Finally, we came to an agreement to bring him on now. It's very important to get him now, since we've only played three games and he will have most of the season to make an impact."
When will his paperwork and medical be completed?
"His visa is in the hands of the US government. We don't think there will be a problem there but we're waiting on that. We're hoping he'll be here mid-week and he'll be available to play on April 1. We'll see how the process goes for the visa, we'll complete the physical when he gets here. If it goes longer than a week, we'll complete the physical in Europe."
Will you pursue other German players?
"We won't go just after Germans. We'll look in all parts of the world. If Bastian has a good experience here, I'm sure he'll help in attracting other players, from any country. We want to show that a world champion came here, had success, and had a good experience so that will draw other players."