Are the Chicago Fire actually a big club?

Out of all the coverage of Veljko Paunovic’s hiring, something lying just underneath the obvious storylines stood out.

Paunovic chose the Fire job despite interest elsewhere, including an offer from Greek club Panathinaikos, with one site even reporting it was a near done deal earlier this month.

Also, the Fire had a prestigious list (by MLS standards anyway) of coaching candidates. Ranging from Pavel Pardo, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Tab Ramos and Jason Kreis.

Despite the rhetoric among Chicago Fire fans that the club’s ownership hasn’t spent big money on the team, the Fire seemed to show some muscle on this hire. Paunovic was a good coaching prospect on the rise after guiding Serbia to a U-20 World Cup title in June. He had suitors. This means the Fire had to offer both a significant salary to Paunovic and show to him that the club had the resources available to win.

Guillermo Rivera’s coverage of the Nelson Rodriguez press conference about Paunovic’s hiring had this Rodriguez quote:

He was given a lot at Serbia, but perhaps not even as much as he’ll be given here. We spare no resources. We are fortunate enough to have an ownership group that has put no barriers and limitations to what we can do and what we need to do. I suspect he’ll even become better with more resources, although we still want him to become adaptable and not lose that skillset.

Perhaps this is Rodriguez trying to push back against the narrative that the club has been cheap in recent years. Maybe it’s true though.

The Fire did go after Jermaine Jones and Didier Drogba the past two summers, only to have the league work against them in those moves (although it’s hard to fault Drogba for wanting to play in Montreal where his native French is the first language). If Jones or Drogba are playing in Chicago, the narrative probably goes away with one swipe of a pen to a contract.

However, it didn’t happen that way and the team has suffered through two dismal seasons after a few more mediocre years. The on the field product has been the real problem, but maybe the resources that go into that product aren’t as dire as some think.

At every opportunity the club insists it has resources to compete in the upper echelon of MLS spending. However, actions speak louder than words and until a big move is made, the narrative of the Fire being cheap won’t go away.

Paunovic’s hire might be the first step in turning that around. After all, there aren’t many coaches out there who can say they’ve won a World Cup, even at a youth level.

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