Soccer Superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger on His New Chapter with the Chicago Fire & Life in the Windy City

By J.P. Anderson | September 28, 2017 | People Feature

Chicago’s most famous footballer has millions of fans, a champion tennis player wife and matinee idol looks. Now, star soccer player Bastian Schweinsteiger has his sights set on a new goal: an MLS Cup for the Chicago Fire.

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Coat, $1,150, by Acne at Saks Fifth Avenue; light brown cashmere blazer, $3,995, by Brunello Cucinelli at Neiman Marcus; striped crew neck sweater, $385, by Vince at Saks Fifth Avenue; pants, $125, by Peter Millar at Neiman Marcus.

With a Cubs hat pulled low over his signature blond coif and his back to the door of a certain trendy Gold Coast restaurant, Bastian Schweinsteiger is in full-on incognito mode. You can hardly blame him for keeping a low profile: The German soccer superstar was recently named one of ESPN’s top 100 most famous athletes in the world (No. 68, to be precise), and with more than 20 million social media followers, anonymity is nearly impossible to come by.

In Chicago, though, Schweinsteiger is enjoying something close to it. Having spent 15 years with European powerhouses Bayern Munich and Manchester United, the 33-year-old midfielder decided to give MLS soccer a go, joining the Chicago Fire and moving with his recently retired tennis champion wife, Ana Ivanovic, to the Windy City, a town that is, shall we say, less obsessed with soccer than with other athletic pursuits. Together, the duo have instantly become one of the city’s most noteworthy power couples, embracing Chicago and posting their adventures—bike rides along the lake, boat tours of the river—and winning the hearts of Chicagoans at the same time.

As Schweinsteiger angles to lead the Fire to the playoffs, the genial German recently chatted exclusively with Michigan Avenue about his first MLS season, his plans for the future, and how he and Ivanovic are embracing life in the Windy City.

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Sweater, $825, and pants, $356, both by Etro at Neiman Marcus; Rolex 44mm Yachtmaster II in steel, $18,750, by Rolex at James & Sons, N. Halsted.

What inspired this new chapter in Chicago?
I knew that Chicago is a city of sport, and to bring back soccer on the same level as the other sports here was a motivation. [It was also about] the challenge and the opportunity to help the team, which has been at the bottom of the league for two years, to grow and maybe to share some tactical things which the MLS doesn’t know.

What has playing in the MLS been like?
You can’t really compare it because of the history of the leagues. But the physicality is quite high, and also there’s the feeling that every team can beat anyone in this league—so it doesn’t matter if you’re at the bottom of the league, you can beat the top teams. But soon I think there will be a gap.

Are you happy with how the season has gone so far?
It’s going quite well, but there’s room to improve. You need a lot of training sessions, a belief that things will change [and improve] and also creativity and talent. I don’t understand why we are struggling when we play away [games]. At home, we have won [nearly] all our matches—but it’s not only our team; it’s the whole MLS. I don’t believe it when someone says it’s the traveling. It’s not. It’s something else.

What’s your ultimate goal for this season?
I’m used to winning titles when I play soccer. I know that for this team, the first goal is to qualify for the playoffs. But as soon as I step on the pitch, I want to win the game—it doesn’t matter against who. So it would be great to qualify for the playoffs but then to [go for it], and maybe we can win the MLS Cup.

You and Ana are embracing the city in a very public way. What is it about Chicago that has inspired you?
When I came over here, the people welcomed me with open arms, so I want to give that back in a way. What I like also is that [people here] respect our privacy, and they are very polite. Obviously it’s a great city, the lake is close by. That’s really cool, and other things as well, like the Chicago Riverwalk and Navy Pier. I like to [take my] bike and ride over there. It’s nice in the mornings, because it’s very quiet.

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Jacket, $1,571, by Etro at Neiman Marcus; sweater, $250, by APC at Saks Fifth Avenue; pants, $300, by Acne at Saks Fifth Avenue; Rolex 40mm Daytona Cosmograph in 18k Everose gold with leather strap, $28,800, by Rolex at James & Sons, N. Halsted; shoes, Bastian’s own.

You’re both hugely famous internationally as athletes and personalities, but here you’re able to live in relative anonymity. What has that been like?
There is a difference between Europe and here. To be honest, when I’m with Ana—obviously she’s beautiful and people notice her quite a lot, so when I’m alone it’s sometimes easier for me. [laughs] Like I said, people here respect our privacy, and they are such fans of sport. [We’ve been] to baseball and basketball and ice hockey games, and it was really cool to feel the atmosphere.

Can you envision yourself staying in Chicago?
You should never say never, right? My contract ends at the end of the year, so we will see how it goes. I signed for one year to see how it is to play in the MLS; [by the time] this issue comes out probably we’ll know a little bit more.

"I’m used to winning titles when I play soccer. I know that for this team, the first goal is to qualify for the playoffs—but as soon as I step on the pitch, I want to win the game. It doesn’t matter against who."

How do you think the fans have received you?
It was amazing when I arrived here in Chicago—they came out to the airport to welcome me and my family. [And] so far, at the home games, they support us really well. I mean, we’ve won [nearly] all our home matches, so it’s kind of because of them. As a soccer player, you feel the atmosphere in the stadium, and when your own supporters are supporting you like they do, it helps. It would be great if they all could come to our away matches.

What do you think you’d be doing if not playing soccer?
I would probably be a ski racer. I started at two and a half; my dad put me on skis. He was a ski racer. But it was very cold—it was always minus 20 degrees. At one point I had to decide between joining Bayern Munich or being a skier. And then I was thinking maybe soccer is the better way—and a little bit easier because in winter you have to carry a lot of equipment, and you would have to wake up very early. So I chose soccer.

What’s your idea of a perfect day in the Windy City?
I like to wake up around 7 and grab a coffee— obviously everything is with my wife. Grab coffee, have a walk to maybe Navy Pier, have breakfast at one of the great places over here [in the Gold Coast]. Then I like to take a bike [ride]. Maybe go to a museum, have a nap in the afternoon and then it depends—let’s say watching an ice hockey game in the early evening, and then if there is any time to go to the opera. Because the opera, theater, ballet, it kind of brings me down [from the day]. When the orchestra starts playing, I relax. That’s it. I’m not going out for parties.

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Photography by Billy Rood. Styling by Michael Favia. Grooming by Elena Greenwell of Factor Artists. Shot on location at the University Club of Chicago. The University Club of Chicago was built at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street in 1909 and is a private club for members with college or university degrees. The club offers its members exceptional food and beverage services and in the fall of 2017 opens a new casual dining venue with a rooftop terrace overlooking Millennium Park and Lake Michigan.

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