Rafael Wiki played for HSV and Werder in the Bundesliga for ten years and is now the coach of Chicago Fire. In an interview with SPORT BLD, the Swiss player has long spoken about the “completely wrong image” many Europeans have of MLS and Giovanni Reina of Dortmund, which he promoted in the US Under-17s. Plus, Wicky tells what drove Bastian Schweinsteiger to Chicago and what the big HSV problem was in his day.
I was head coach of FC Basel, and recently debated as the new national coach for Switzerland. Why is your job at MLS club Chicago Fire the most exciting for you?
Raphael Wiki (44): Since I played with the Chivas in MLS (Editor 2008), I have been very interested in this league. It is growing, becoming more and more attractive in terms of sports, I really wanted to work here as a coach. Many people in Europe still have a completely wrong picture. They think MLS is still at the same level it was 10 or 15 years ago.
What has changed?
MLS is no longer the comfortable career-end league for stars from the major European leagues. The team is no longer made up of three great players, five good players and the rest of the players, who are completely inferior. Club performance centers feature many strong young players who start early with the pros. Many of South America’s top talent come first in the MLS and use it as a springboard to Europe. This league is very strong physically, and the game is very intense.
However, global interest is increasing especially when famous players are brought in from Europe. Last summer, Inter Miami coach David Beckham caused a stir with the transfer of former Juventus stars Gonzalo Higuain (33) and Blaise Matuidi (34).
David Beckham is a principal ambassador for MLS in Europe and around the world. And there’s nothing wrong with clubs getting big stars from Europe now and then – as long as they’re still really burning. Bastian Schweinsteiger is a great example.
When I started as a Fire coach at the end of 2020, Schweinsteiger had just finished his career after two years in Chicago. What do they say in the club about the Bayern star?
A Schweinsteiger shirt hangs on the wall in our cabin. And his former colleagues cheer him on. Basti made his mark here in the way he handled training every day, for example. Specifically, it’s not like someone is thinking: “I’m going to play more relaxed here at the end of my career and grab the money.” This global star wanted to get better every day even in his mid-30s. He set an example for young players on what it means to be a true professional.
Before you started your business at Fire, you trained for the US Under 17. What American talent has stellar potential?
One of them plays in BVB: Giovanni Reina. As his coach at U17, I was immediately fascinated by Gio’s incredible in-game intelligence, and technical skills, combined with the superior physical demands. Moving to Germany was the case for him. By training at the BVB, he has improved his game against the ball and defending himself, absorbing the fight for the team and winning mentality. If Jiu develops in this way, he could go one step further and play for one of the top five clubs in the world, including Bayern Munich. There are some players with huge potential who are already playing for clubs from the major European leagues and the senior national team, such as Younes Moussa at FC Valencia, Timothy Weah at Lille or Sergino Dest at Barcelona. A super generation growing up to 2026.
Photo: Marius Becker / D
In your opinion, what can the United States do at the World Cup at home in five years?
If this generation develops like this, the team will be its ultimate goal. The United States is on track to become the number one soccer nation in the next five to ten years, vying for the big titles. I really immerse myself in this athletic country because I think the American mentality is great.
In which way?
The motto is: Never give up, always look ahead, always find something positive in every situation, no matter how bad it is. There is less envy here than in Europe. You treat yourself a lot and it allows you to show that you are proud of what you have achieved. The Americans want you to talk about your successes, in my case the world and European championships as a Swiss player, and your appearance in the Champions League with HSV. There is no grudge in the stadiums as is sometimes the case in Europe or South America. No one goes there with negative thoughts or loaded with aggression.
Wenger plans the World Cup every two years
15 years ago, I played first grade with HSV. This season, the club is trying to return to the Bundesliga for the fourth time. What is wrong with a hamburger?
I no longer know how the indoor club works. HSV has always been turbulent in my time and before. There have always been a lot of people who want to have a say and have a say: on the supervisory board, on the board of directors, or on other committees. There have been many changes at the management level. This has always been a risk and a hindrance, for this big club to be able to establish itself in the upper band of the Bundesliga table or at least in the middle of the field. Most successful clubs can operate quietly and steadily. That’s what HSV lacks and that’s exactly what has always been a great strength for Werder (Wicky played in Bremen from 1997 to 2001, d. Red.). Never panic, no matter how great the external pressure. Unfortunately, things are different now. It hurts to see the clubs that have been such a big part of my career collapse.
Do you like the internship job at HSV?
Of course, working as a coach in the Bundesliga or at a club that belongs there is attractive. I have a private connection to HSV and Werder, but I don’t base my future on my personal past. The project and the people in the club and in the environment are crucial. In the future I am open to many countries. I speak five languages (German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, editor). For now, my focus is on the Chicago Fire only.
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