Fire acquire former Arsenal midfielder Ljungberg

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Fire acquire former Arsenal midfielder Ljungberg

Friday, July 30, 2010
5:55 PM

CSNChicago.com

The Chicago Fire have acquired former Arsenal midfielder and Swedish international Freddie Ljungberg from the Seattle Sounders FC for a conditional selection in the 2011 or 2012 SuperDraft.

The move marks the first-ever trade of a Designated Player in the history of Major League Soccer. The 33-year-old midfielder becomes the Fire's second designated player and will become available for selection by Fire Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos this Sunday, Aug. 1 when the Fire take on the LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center.

"Freddie is an exceptional player, with world-class talent and we are thrilled to have him join the Chicago Fire," Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas said. "He is a player with an illustrious career and as an attacking player he will help us towards our goal of bringing the MLS Cup to Chicago."

Credited as one of the founding members of Seattle Sounders FC, Ljungberg (pronounced LOON-berg) helped lead the expansion side to the 2009 MLS Cup playoffs in their inaugural season. In 2009, Ljungberg tallied two goals and nine assists, including five game winning assists, as the former Arsenal great was named to the 2009 MLS Best XI.

"I have been thinking long and hard about the next step in my career and I am extremely happy to become the newest member of the Chicago Fire," Ljungberg said. "I had a very long and exciting meeting with Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and technical director Frank Klopas.

"Their vision and commitment to this club and to winning championships was extremely appealing to me. I am looking forward to working with my new teammates, meeting the passionate fans of Section 8 and becoming an active part of the community, which has such a strong and successful sports tradition."

Ljungberg is widely recognized for his prominent role in Arsenal's run of two EPL and three FA Cup championships between 1999-2005. The dynamic midfielder appeared in 328 matches for Arsenal from 1998-07, scoring 72 goals and was named 2002 MVP Barclaycard Premier League Player of the Year. In 2001-02 he scored a season high 17 goals in all competitions, including 12 in league play.

During his tenure with Arsenal, the club never finished lower than fourth in the English Premier League and recently, Ljungberg was voted top 11 on the Gunners' all-time top 50 players.

Between his first appearance for Sweden in 1998 (against the United States) and his international retirement following UEFA Euro 2008, Ljungberg played in two World Cups (2002, 2006) and three UEFA Euros. He served as national team captain from 2006-2008 and, altogether, scored 14 goals.

The creative midfielder's first home match for the Men In Red pits him against former Arsenal teammate Thierry Henry, when the Fire host the New York Red Bulls at TOYOTA PARK on Aug. 8.

How does Bastian Schweinsteiger fit into the Fire's lineup?

How does Bastian Schweinsteiger fit into the Fire's lineup?

The dust has begun to settle from the Chicago Fire's signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger.

A few days after the announcement, everyone has had a chance to process the move, evaluate it and wonder how it will help the team. The big question that remains is how will Schweinsteiger fit in with this group?

While central midfield had been a problem for the Fire last year, the additions of Dax McCarty and Juninho, both former MLS All-Stars who are currently still in their prime, seemed to have filled the hole. Now Schweinsteiger comes in and the Fire have a glut of central midfielders.

When asked about finding a way to get all three on the field, coach Veljko Paunovic said it's not a concern at all.

"We were thinking about that a long time ago," Paunovic said. "We were preparing him and other guys to play together. We know what we are doing."

Paunovic wouldn't give much away about how the three would play together in midfield or what specific role Schweinsteiger would play. Will he be an attacking midfielder? Will he sit deep and have one of McCarty and Juninho move up?

"He's going to play the role of the midfielder," Paunovic said. "The midfielder has to play different roles depending on the situation so it's a proven player and I don't think that there is a question about his qualities and what he can bring to our team. For sure he can play, helping our team to build the attack, to help the organization of the play and then in the final third we all know that he can produce passes in the final third and score goals."

While Paunovic wouldn't give any hints as to how Schweinsteiger fits into the Fire's midfield, general manager Nelson Rodriguez did. Sort of.

"There's a current trend that the only way to be a successful No. 10 is to go to Argentina, find a No. 10 fairy tree... and that's the only way that you can have a 10,” Rodriguez said. "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 a game."

That answer implies that maybe the Rodriguez and Paunovic view Schweinsteiger as an attacking midfielder in MLS. Even though Rodriguez volunteered the concept of Schweinsteiger of a playmaking No. 10 without being asked about that role, he wouldn't commit to it.

"Pauno and I clearly have had discussions and we were comfortable with it in that regard," Rodriguez said of Schweinsteiger's fit. "I'm loathe to say No. 10 or otherwise again because I think those conjure up preconceived notions and I would also point out that Bastian played in attacking midfield role for Bayern in some of his last years there to great effect. We're talking about a player whose versatility, his intelligence through his 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."

So if Rodriguez and Paunovic won't give much away yet, let's have fun speculating as to how the Fire may line up with the German in the fold.

For starters, there are some basic, reasonable assumptions you have to make when coming up with how things could fit together. These assumptions largely dictate the options available.

Neither Juninho nor Dax McCarty are going to the bench.

The simplest lineup solution would involve having Schweinsteiger step into his natural position and no one moving out of their natural spot. However, that's not going to happen because Juninho and McCarty are too good and too important to send to the bench. That's why this isn't simple. Finding a way to fit three central midfielders into the same starting lineup will require some creativity from Paunovic.

Nemanja Nikolic, David Accam and Michael de Leeuw all must start.

Like Schweinsteiger, Nikolic and Accam are designated players and will start when healthy. Hypthetically, the Fire could have Schweinsteiger come in as an extra midfielder in some sort of 4-5-1 (or 4-3-3) formation and have the Fire play with only one forward, which would be Nikolic. The problem with this is de Leeuw, who was arguably the team's best player after debuting last August, is too good to send to the bench. In this scenario he is left without a spot. Does he move into a wide position to accommodate Schweinsteiger and send Arturo Alvarez to the bench? This seems plausible, but less than ideal for de Leeuw, who has proven to be an effective goal poacher.

Given Rodriguez's quotes about Schweinsteiger being a playmaker, here are a couple ways this could work with him as the highest of the three central midfielders.

First, a 4-2-3-1, which Paunovic has used for most of his matches with the Fire. Schweinsteiger has more offensive responsibility here.

Second, a more traditional 4-3-3 where Vincent and Harrington will have provide more attacking width.

The differences between these two are subtle, but these seem to be the most likely possibilities.

But what about something very different? What about a 3-5-2? Paunovic tried this formation a few times last season, but often times it looked more like a very defensive 5-3-2 because, as he even said, the wide defenders weren't getting forward enough. Different personnel could change that. Behold:

The benefits to this are that the Fire's best offensive players are all on the field at the same time in their natural positions and Schweinsteiger won't be asked to cover a lot of ground with Juninho and McCarty playing behind him centrally.

However, there's always risk going with a three-man back line. McCarty and Juninho can provide better cover and support than the Fire had last year when trying this formation. Another option would be to have Brandon Vincent replace Alvarez to have a more defensive-minded player on the field.

The answer won't come until Schweinsteiger makes his first start in a Fire uniform, and even then Paunovic may tinker or change his mind.

"I would just say I don't think people should make an assumption as to how we're going to line up or play or what roles we're going to fill," Rodriguez said. "I think that we have to allow this team to come together. We have to allow this team to play together. We have to allow competition to change to determine who plays."

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.