Manchester United

Bastian Schweinsteiger happy with Manchester United's Europa League win

Bastian Schweinsteiger happy with Manchester United's Europa League win

Bastian Schweinsteiger's time with Manchester United wound down with him being essentially frozen out of the team for an extended period, but he was still happy to see his former teammates win a European trophy on Wednesday.

Man U beat Ajax 2-0 to win the Europa League final in Stockholm. The win sealed a berth in next year's Champions League for the Red Devils.

Despite the way Schweinsteiger's tenure in England ended, the German midfielder has still said positive things about the club since leaving for the Chicago Fire in March. He tweeted out a good luck message to the team ahead of the final.

Paul Pogba scored in the first half and Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored in the second half to seal United's win and the trophy to end a season that included a sixth-place finish in the Premier League.

Schweinsteiger didn't play in any Premier League matches this season, but his last appearance for the Manchester club was as a subtitute in the Europa League round of 32 at French club Saint-Etienne on Feb. 22.

Training with the Fire on Wednesday kept him from watching the whole final, but he said he did watch what he could.

“I’m happy for United," Schweinsteiger said after the Fire's 2-1 win against Dallas. "I’m happy for them. They are a good team and I’m happy they can play in Champions League next year.”

Patience and persistence were required for Fire to sign Bastian Schweinsteiger

Patience and persistence were required for Fire to sign Bastian Schweinsteiger

For many, the Bastian Schweinsteiger to Chicago Fire rumors started with a meeting in Manchester.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was spotted meeting with Schweinsteiger in Manchester in November. The tabloid, TMZ-like nature of how the European media covers player moves and rumors had an effect on the Fire.

However, the Fire's pursuit of Schweinsteiger started months before that. MLSsoccer.com's Sam Stejskal chronicled the timeline and how the Fire convinced the German star to come to Chicago.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said in a conference call on Tuesday that the first pursuit of him "came late summer, early fall of last year." Things did not progress initially.

"At that time, while granted permission to make contact with the player's representatives and the player, we were kindly asked to wait and see how things went," Rodriguez said. "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."

As the 2016-17 Premier League season started and Jose Mourinho took over at Manchester United, Schweinsteiger found himself on the outs. He ended up playing no league matches and four cup matches this season for Man U.

Rodriguez and Paunovic saw an opportunity with Schweinsteiger not playing.

"We worked on our weaknesses last season and one of them was adapting in our midfield," Paunovic said. "We had the idea with him when we saw everything was happening that he was not playing. We reached out to the team, Manchester United. We asked for the permission to speak with him and from there we started a relationship with Bastian and it went well. We were working a long time on his acquisition and we are very happy that we could make it done."

Reports of Schweinsteiger training with the Man U reserves signaled a likely departure, but he was not ready to give up.

"Bastian had nothing but good things to say about his experience at United, about his relationship with his teammates and his coaching staff," Rodriguez said. "He clearly has a great affection for the fans as well. I'm sure knowing the competitor that he is, although not wanting to speak for him, of course I imagine he felt he could have played more, should have played more, 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 want to remain at United and prove himself even more valuable than he was able to show."

According to Stejskal, the infamous meeting in Manchester between Paunovic and Schweinsteiger was four hours long and the Fire were hoping to land Schweinsteiger in January. While the chances of that seemed to fade, Man U found some moderate use for him.

He still wasn't playing in the Premier League, but Schweinsteiger was high enough on the depth chart to play in some cup matches in January, including playing all 90 minutes and scoring against Wigan in the FA Cup on Jan. 29.

The Fire brass remained persistent in their pursuit of Schweinsteiger. Rodriguez said on Fire Weekly on Wednesday that they checked in with Schweisteiger about once a month, but as the Fire's season neared and ultimately began, things were getting tight. Rodriguez has said multiple times that he isn't fond of introducing players in the middle of the MLS season, saying it is difficult to fully integrate players midseason and didn't want to have to do so with Schweinsteiger.

"We would have preferred it earlier," Rodriguez said. "We would have preferred it before the window closed in England and in January and in preseason. But United, with 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 probably is thinning out as we get closer to the end of the year, but we did reach a point where we said 'It has to be now or it wouldn't happen.'"

Another meeting took place, according to Stejskal, and this time it convinced Schweinsteiger to get on board. After getting United to let him leave, the deal was on. Rodriguez said on Fire Weekly that "it all came together in early March."

"Bastian is a special case, again as a person and as a player, and so not wanting to say an ultimatum because I think that would be unfair and untrue, we made it clear that if we couldn't close it now, then we would likely move on," Rodriguez said.

Now Schweinsteiger is set to join the Fire and could do so possibly as early as the middle of next week, pending his visa, in advance of the April 1 home game against Montreal.

Fire finally land the big one in Bastian Schweinsteiger

Fire finally land the big one in Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger is going to play for the Chicago Fire.

That sentence being true isn't a big surprise after four months of rumors, but it still may feel odd.

After years of rumors, failed acquisitions and near misses, the Fire finally got a big name. From the Jermaine Jones blind draw to Montreal beating the Fire to Didier Drogba and even the near-signing of Alejandro Bedoya last year, the Fire have been rumored to add notable players on a few occasions in the last few years. This time the Fire finalized the deal and now have a marquee name for the first time since Cuauhtemoc Blanco played for the team from 2007-2009.

The move is an obvious marketing boon for the club. Schweinsteiger is a world famous player who has played for two of the biggest, most well-known and supported teams in the world in Bayern Munich and Manchester United. He has nearly 4 million Twitter followers (which is 35 times what the Fire's official account has).

Scan the internet for reaction to the signing and there is a scattering of 'I have to go to a game now' comments. That's what the Fire are going for.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said Schweinsteiger may be the biggest name to ever play for the Fire.

"I think that there have been other great players who have worn red," Rodriguez said. "Players such as Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Hristo Stoichkov, Peter Nowak… with respect to all of those people I think Bastian is just another strata. It's a result of his having won with every team with which he played. He captured every major trophy for which he's contested. There's not many people in all of sports that can make similar claims."

Stoichkov won the 1994 Ballon d’Or, a world player of the year award, and scored the most goals in the 1994 World Cup so Rodriguez's claim may be dubious, but the point is Schweinsteiger's resume is in the upper tier of players.

On the other side, there are questions about how effective he will be for this team and how he will fit in. Schweinsteiger hasn't played a single Premier League match for Man U this season. He has played four cup games, but it's fair to wonder about the health and effectiveness of the 32-year-old. That said, just because a player can't get on the field for Manchester United doesn't mean he can't still be good enough to be effective for an MLS team.

"Bastian is bringing his quality as a person, as a human and his experience in the locker room," coach Veljko Paunovic said after training on Tuesday. "He's also very professional and there are many proofs for that. I don't think that I have to tell the people who we are bringing in our environment. It's just that we know for sure that he is going to be successful here. He is going to help our locker room grow, learn and win. With all the qualities that he brings on and off the field, I think it's enough for us to have a man and a leader in the locker room that can take us to have a great experience this year."

There have been plenty of big name players to join Major League Soccer past their prime. Some have succeeded (Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, David Villa) and some have not (Rafa Marquez, Freddie Ljungberg, Torsten Frings).

The comparison being mentioned most is Steven Gerrard. Gerrard played the same position as Schweinsteiger and joined the LA Galaxy from Liverpool in 2015 at age 35, three years older than Schweinsteiger is now. He made 34 appearances in a season and a half in MLS and totaled five goals and 14 assists, but struggled to cover ground defensively. Would the Fire be happy if Schweinsteiger turned out to be another Gerrard in MLS?

The timing of the move adds an extra twist considering the Fire just got thumped at expansion team Atlanta, a club which spent tons of money but did so on young South American talent. Not many soccer fans in America had previously heard of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez or Hector Villalba, but Saturday's 4-0 win against the Fire showed all three are among the best talents in MLS and make Atlanta both a contender and a fun team to watch, making name recognition moot.

The best example of younger talent paying dividends is Seattle paying up to land midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro in the middle of last season. Lodeiro was 27 when Seattle signed him and he led the Sounders' turnaround from a team on the brink of falling out of playoff contention into MLS Cup champs.

In a time when the league has started to eschew older talent in lieu of younger players that don't have the name recognition attached to them, the Fire bring in a 32-year-old who hasn't played a league match all season and has a recent history of knee injuries.

Schweinsteiger's quality in midfield has been proven throughout his career and if he still has something left in his knees, he will be a good MLS player. How good and how much better does he make the Fire? That's the $4.5 million question.