Bastian Schweinsteiger, world soccer star, begins his Chicago odyssey


Those who have moved to Chicago for a new job know the best way to experience the city in those early days is to walk through it. To be dwarfed by its awesome skyscrapers. To absorb the nuances of different neighborhoods. To feel the energy of people along the river and in restaurants and on the sidewalks.

Bastian Schweinsteiger has often craned his neck strolling through downtown since arriving March 28. The German soccer superstar can afford to because he hasn’t constantly been recognized and stopped. He can succumb to the magnetic pull from above.

“In Manchester, you don’t have proper tall buildings,” he says. “Or in Munich.”

And something else recently piqued his curiosity: a line of people stretching down the block near his temporary home at the Peninsula Chicago hotel.

“What are they doing?” Schweinsteiger asked a couple on the street.

Several days later, he was still processing the answer.

“They were waiting for a table to get this pizza,” he wondered aloud. “Because it’s so thick.”

With that initiation to Giordano’s and deep dish, Schweinsteiger’s Chicago odyssey is fully underway. And while he’s searching more diligently for authentic weisswurst and Wiener schnitzel than most other transplants, the culture shock in this instance goes both ways.

When the Fire acquired Schweinsteiger on a one-year, $4.5 million deal March 20, the splash rippled across the pond through Europe and the global soccer community.

For those who don’t follow soccer, think of Dwyane Wade joining the Bulls last July — except Schweinsteiger is closer to his prime at age 32, has five more German Bundesliga titles than Wade has NBA championships and plays the world’s most popular sport.

For the Bridgeview-based Fire celebrating their 20th anniversary, Schweinsteiger’s impeccable credentials, class and star power represent hope and potential.

Schweinsteiger married Ana Ivanovic last summer. The Serbian was the top-ranked female tennis player in the world in 2008 and retired in December at age 29.

When either of them has put on social media pictures of themselves in Chicago — at a Bulls game last month or at Easter dinner, for example — European tabloids have run with it. Ivanovic was featured this month on the cover of the German issue of Harper’s Bazaar, a higher-end fashion and culture magazine.

It’s no wonder to Friedrich that 500 people greeted them at O’Hare upon their arrival.

“Chicago knows already what a big deal they made with Schweini,” Friedrich says. “They have some kind of celebrity couple now. It’s going to be a win-win situation.”

So far, so good — at least where it matters most. Schweinsteiger’s class on the field helped the Fire win two of his first three matches and draw the other. And perhaps that’s just the beginning.

Schweinsteiger’s decorated career has helped him establish a global reach the Fire already have tapped into.

His Twitter account, for example, has 4.05 million followers, ranking 998th in the world, according to TwitterCounter.com. That’s 1.5 million more followers than all the Bears players’ accounts combined. It’s almost 2 million more than the accounts of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews combined. Wade, with 6.6 million, is the only active Chicago athlete with a greater following.

Through Schweinsteiger’s first two weeks with the Fire, the club reported 2.5 billion impressions worldwide from all the media coverage and team-produced content about the acquisition. They sold more than 150 additional season tickets.

Not that Atul Khosla believes their work to be complete. The Fire’s chief operating officer since 2011 understands the mountain they’re climbing.

The club has signed international stars before. More than 5,000 fans attended Mexican midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s introduction at Toyota Park in 2007. But Blanco was not as decorated as Schweinsteiger, and this time the club has a stronger, broader foundation supporting the move.

Khosla explains it like a proud father. Over last four years, the Fire’s strategy to increase their following in Chicago through year-round, grass-roots efforts has expanded the club’s footprint.

Owner Andrew Hauptman spearheaded construction of a $22 million, 150,000 square-foot indoor soccer facility on the northwest side that opened in December 2015.

The PrivateBank Fire Pitch is home to Chicago Fire Rec Soccer, an adult league with 14,000 registered participants, according to the team.

Chicago Fire Juniors, the club’s youth program, has increased from 400 kids to nearly 17,000 playing here and in other states, including Indiana and Michigan, over the last four years, Khosla says.

Lizerazu put it simply: “He’s a legend.”

Chicago kickoff



Source link