Xherdan Shaqiri for Switzerland
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The Chicago Fire & the Curious Case of Xherdan Shaqiri

On Wednesday afternoon, Xherdan Shaqiri scored an absolute screamer for Switzerland in their Euro 2024 match against Scotland.

That should’ve been a moment of celebration for Chicago Fire fans. Their star man, their captain, had just rifled in a beauty on a massive stage, becoming the first MLS player to score at a European Championship in the process.

Instead, supporters reacted with feelings of anger and disappointment. The craziest thing is that you couldn’t even blame them too much.

That’s because it seems like the Shaqiri era in Chicago is about to come to a close.

Speaking to Swiss media ahead of the country’s Euro campaign, Shaqiri straight-up admitted that he’d like to return to Europe following the competition, specifically Basel.

There were rumours that the Chicago Fire would be moving on from him in the summer if possible, but last week’s bombshell quotes have certainly kicked things into another gear. The tweet they posted about the goal wasn’t the most enthusiastic, and there wasn’t anything on their website about their big-name player. 

Meanwhile, the team has been doing better without him.

Since Shaqiri’s time here is nearly over, it’s the perfect time to reflect on his tenure in the Windy City. There’s no argument to be made in terms of how well things have gone, as everyone can admit the move hasn’t worked out at all. 

However, what’s worth debating is who is truly at fault. Is it the Fire? Is it Shaqiri? Is it me or you? It’s complicated.

scotland v switzerland group a uefa euro 2024
COLOGNE, GERMANY – JUNE 19: Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match between Scotland and Switzerland at Cologne Stadium on June 19, 2024 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

A Quick Recap of Shaqiri & the Fire

Let’s go over what’s happened first.

Xherdan Shaqiri came to Chicago with plenty of fanfare. On February 9th, 2022, the club officially announced his signing, buying him from Ligue 1 outfit Olympique Lyonnais, aka Lyon, for about $7.5 million.

Fire fans were thrilled with the news, as their team had finally landed a big name. While the attacker was never one of the best in the world, he was still an incredible talent that had represented the likes of Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, and Liverpool. He was also a recognisable figure, both literally and figuratively. He’s like a human powercube.

This seemed like a huge step in the right direction, especially for a new front office that had failed to impress since taking over the club two years prior. 

Things started well. Even though Shaqiri only scored once from the penalty spot in his first four games, Chicago won two of them and conceded just a single goal. Then the attacker went on international duty and picked up an injury on his return to the States, effectively missing two games.

The Fire lost seven of their next ten games with him in the lineup, even though the player did make four goal contributions during this time. The rest of the campaign came and went without much excitement, and the team ultimately ended up in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points off of the playoffs.

It wasn’t an ideal debut year for Shaqiri, but there were some reasons. He joined after already having played a good chunk of the season for Lyon, and he needed time to adapt to life in MLS. Fans saw the best of him at the end of the year at the 2022 World Cup, as he had some really promising performances for Switzerland, including another goal against Serbia.

Unfortunately for all involved, the number #10 struggled at the start of the 2023 campaign. Another injury forced him to miss a run of four games early on, and he was even benched a week after rejoining the team. His manager at the time, Ezra Hendrickson, was sacked thanks to Chicago’s poor results. The player, meanwhile, went three months without a goal.

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Shaqiri’s output never improved, and he only had four goals in the final six months plus a meagre two assists in league play. He wasn’t an awful player or anything, and sometimes he’d impact games in different ways, but it was far from enough considering his expectations. Fans did get to see him shine for one game, as he was stellar at home versus Inter Miami in front of a packed stadium, but then he vanished again. 

We’ll get to it later, but that contest really showcased his tenure here. The Fire ended the season in 13th, and even though they were only three points off the postseason this time around, it still wasn’t a good campaign.

Going into this year, Shaqiri was given the armband, and there was hope that extra responsibility would finally be what got the most out of him. It wasn’t.

The attacker only has two goals and an assist to his name at the midway point of the season, and he’s been benched on a few different occasions. The funniest thing is that the team has been better without him. They have one point in the last six games he’s featured, and they have eight points just in the last four games he’s missed due to international duty. 

Honestly, when I first started thinking about Shaqiri’s time with the Fire, I did not think it was this bad. Going year-by-year really highlights how little of an impact he’s had with the club, and how bad the deal has been. In 75 appearances in all competitions, he has 16 goals and 13 assists, less than 0.4 goal contributions a game. Penalties have somewhat inflated even those figures.

So, we realise this has been a borderline disastrous signing. Now we’ve got to figure out who’s really to blame.

False Prophets

We’ll start with Shaqiri, who many fans have turned against. They’ve stopped defending him, and they’ve stopped supporting him altogether. It’s somewhat understandable.

Unless he’s wearing the colours of his country, the number 10 has never been the kind of player who really pushes himself. He’s not lazy, he’s just not that motivated, not to the degree of others. He’s more of a “streets won’t forget” kind of player. 

His club career before Chicago proves that. He was at his best when he could be a secondary character, only needed to make an impact off the bench or as an occasional starter. Think of his time at Liverpool.

When Shaqiri had to be more of the main man at club level, he didn’t step up. He’s not consistent enough, and it is hard to rely on him to produce at the rate needed. Think of him at Stoke City or Inter Milan.

This is a shame, as it’s clear how talented he is. He’s got incredible power in his legs, which makes him a threat on the ball from any distance. His unique frame helps him dribble at defenders, and he’s quick enough to get by them, even if he lacks raw pace.

You see that when he’s with Switzerland. Representing his country forces him to care, and when he cares, he usually delivers. That’s why his quality showing versus Miami was so bittersweet for Fire fans. He cared that night because he knew eyes would be on him, but he didn’t care enough to find similar motivation for the rest of the year.

I understand it’s human nature to care more about certain games than others, but Shaqiri’s pretty apathetic nature when playing with the Fire isn’t ideal. He could easily push himself more, push his teammates more, and, in general, give more of a damn.

He could get away with this casual approach if he was producing, but he’s not been good enough on the field. The attacker fails to take over games, often falling into the shadows instead. He’ll have a nice run here and a clever pass there, and then long stretches of nothing. 

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Shaqiri has the talent to dominate a decent amount of contests in MLS, and he’s not even that old yet, so you could blame his age on his poor showings. Guys like Fabian Herbers, who don’t have the same talent, frequently outwork and outperform him.

It’d be too harsh to say Shaq has only come to America to steal a paycheck and live well in the country. He does want to win games, and he’s had some moments of magic. He’s just not been bothered enough to drag the team forward and be the main man. 

False Promises

Then again, the Fire should have known all of this before they signed him.

Even when the club announced his acquisition, it felt like the expectations were higher than they should’ve been. Shaqiri was a marquee signing, but it wasn’t a completely game-changing one. He wasn’t going to be a David Beckham, a Thierry Henry, a Zlatan Ibrahimović, or even a Sebastian Giovinco.

This was true for things on and off the field. He wasn’t a big enough name to single-handedly sell out a stadium. You’d get some Swiss fans, some Liverpool fans, and some general European soccer fans to come out, but it’s not like when Zlatan or even Javier Hernández came to town. 

Shaqiri also wasn’t going to save Chicago’s season, at least by himself. It was already clear by his previous club career that he couldn’t be the number one option and that he needed help. Even if he’s the main man for Switzerland, they still make sure to give him plenty of support.

Realistically, the club needed to sign an ever bigger star if they wanted to get the most out of their number 10. He needed a Batman so he could thrive in the Robin role. Let’s see the types of Designated Players the Fire put alongside him.

Gastón Giménez was already there, and Fire fans know how disappointing his tenure has been. If he was bad, Jairo Torres was somehow so much worse, as he literally never scored or assisted a single goal during his brief run. Ousmane Doumbia came next, and he was a nice dude, but not a DP-level player. Hugo Cuypers has been very good as of late, but he’s someone who needs service instead of creating chances himself. 

There have been times where Chicago didn’t even have all three of their DP slots used up. The funniest example is when they practically promised their fanbase a big-name starting striker, and then they went the rest of the season rotating the likes of Kei Kamara, Kacper Przybyłko, and Georgios Κoutsias. 

The club hasn’t had the best coaches with Shaqiri either. Raphaël Wicky didn’t even last a full year with him, and Ezra Hendrickson barely fared any better. Frank Klopas has been the man in charge for the last year, but most of his time has been as the interim manager.

Long story short, the player had to deal with the failings of the sporting director who brought him in, Georg Heitz. He even mentioned that during the bombshell press conference.

That’s not the worst way the Fire has let Shaqiri down, though. The biggest issue has been where they played him. 

Everyone knows Shaqiri as a right winger. When you imagine him playing, you can visualise him cutting in from that side onto his left foot and either whipping in a cross or curling a shot to the far post. That’s where he played before he came to the Windy City, and that’s where he’s almost always played for Switzerland.

Chicago decided that they knew better than everyone else, though. They were going to utilise him as a central attacking midfielder. He was marketed as the number 10, which was his jersey number, and that’s where he was going to play.

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The idea had some potential. The player wasn’t as fast as he used to be, and his playmaking skills could make him quite useful in the middle of the park. It didn’t work, though. 

Shaqiri wasn’t as effective in his new role. He seemed kind of lost, and he was overwhelmed with the number of bodies around him in midfield. That led to him floating towards the wing, which then led to the entire team being unbalanced.

If the Fire tried this for a few games, realised it didn’t work, and then returned him to his rightful home on the wing, all would’ve been alright. Instead, they forced him to stay up the middle, and that’s where he’s been ever since. Why the hell would you do that to your star man?

The Swiss international is a unique player, and you’ve got to use him a certain way if you want him at his best. To paraphrase a saying from Zlatan, having Shaqiri is like having a cool-ass ATV. He’s not the most practical purchase, but he’ll give you some real memorable moments, and if you treat it well, you’ll have a good time for a long time. Chicago, meanwhile, is using him like he’s a family sedan. They’re relying on him even though he’s not comfortable in his surroundings.

It’s not like they didn’t have other options. They’ve been forcing Brian Gutiérrez, their young phenom, into a wider role, even though he’s better up the middle. It’s lunacy. They also could’ve just bought a proper attacking midfielder.

This whole position thing is at its peak when Shaqiri goes on international duty, plays well on the right wing, and then returns to the Fire and is immediately thrown back into the middle of the pitch. 

Long story short, Chicago bought Shaqiri, held him to standards he wasn’t capable of reaching, didn’t build a proper team around him, and didn’t even have the courtesy to play him in his proper position.

How could you have ever expected things to work out?

Making Due

It’s no surprise that, at the end of the day, both sides can be blamed to a certain extent.

Shaqiri likely came to Chicago ready for the challenge and backed himself to be the guy to revitalise a struggling franchise. He likely expected management to help and support him, and once he realised that wasn’t ever coming, he tempered his expectations and lowered his standards.

Before the player’s press conference at the start, he never fully quit on the team. He showed up, played where he was told to, and tried to a certain extent. Sure, he would save himself and not risk injury when he had international games up ahead, but can you blame him? Those are more important than any MLS match.

It also would’ve been nice if Shaqiri tried to overcome the bad situation he was put into. Try a little harder than usual, learn how to thrive in the middle of the field, and be the superhero that Fire fans thought he was going to be. 

Then again, he was likely sold a dream that the Fire were never going to be able to deliver. They let him down, and it’s hard to blame him for not trying when the team didn’t try to help him.

Thankfully, neither side will have to worry about the other for much longer. Chicago and Shaqiri will come to some sort of agreement to terminate his contract. The club will then look to find a replacement that suits them better, while the player will get to end his career in peace somewhere in Europe. 

Doesn’t that sound nice?

(Ok but seriously, that was an insane goal from Shaqiri; he kicked that ball so far into the top corner.)

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