By James Rhys.
Although he was a Chicago Fire player for just over four weeks, and only actually with the team for one, the word is quickly becoming synonymous with Rafael Czichos. Direction.
From the moment the club acquired the experienced centre-half in early January, sporting director Georg Heitz and head coach Ezra Hendrickson were quick to praise his leadership qualities at every opportunity.
It’s no wonder, then, that when he was finally introduced to the media this week, one topic of conversation dominated.
“Yes, before signing the contract I spoke to the coach and he told me that he needed a leader, and we had a very good discussion about it,” Czichos said, reflecting on Hendrickson’s comments.
“Afterwards, we both had a good feeling, and I’m here now to lead the band with Johnny Bornstein, and, yes, the first few days went really well.”
Rafa is there. Rafa is there. Rafa is there. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/IIkEDwoClP
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) February 3, 2022
The 31-year-old finally landed in the United States last week after complications with his visa application delayed his arrival. He’s already relishing the opportunity and responsibility of mentoring the Fire’s plethora of young defenders.
“We have a very young squad, so we need mentality on the pitch, we need leadership, and yes, that’s going to be one of my tasks.
“That’s why I’m here. With my experience, I have to be a leader. This is what I will try to bring to the team. »
Czichos has made over 400 appearances in his career to date, including 111 for FC Köln who he helped return to the Bundesliga in 2019.
During this time, he shared dressing rooms with a range of talented and experienced people in the German divisions; watch, learn, shape their own style of leadership.
“I played with a lot of great players but I would say I never had an idol or something or a guy that I really looked up to. I always wanted to experience it on my own,” he adds. he.
“I think I’m 12 years old now in this business, so I have a bit of experience.
“Even Johnny Bornstein, who I’ve known now for about three days, is showing me how to be a leader on this team.”
With the exception of veteran Bornstein, Czichos will find himself at the heart of a young and inexperienced Fire defense this season, potentially lining up alongside exciting young prospects such as Carlos Terán, Miguel Navarro and first-round pick Kendall. Burks.
Behind them? 17-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina.
LIVE: Ezra Hendrickson and Rafael Czichos have been recording since #cf97 pre-season in Austin. https://t.co/KRjT5dlx9C
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) February 9, 2022
It’s a new challenge for Czichos, but at this point in his career he insists he’s ready to take on the responsibility of leading and guiding, of setting the bar.
“Of course these guys are very young and I want to help them,” he says. “I want to show them how they can be more successful in their careers.
“I want to be the guy who controls the defense. For example, if I say we need to step up a bit, then they need to follow.
“These are just small things but they are really important at the end of the game. So, yes, I think they want to learn, and my task is to organize the defense this year.
“Off the pitch I’m not the guy who’s really loud or loud, but on the pitch I’m vocal. I want to help these young players and yes they have to follow at the end.
“And I think what I saw in the first two practices, like I said before, they want to learn and that’s important.”
After the off-season departure of Francisco Calvo, there is a major opening for a proven leader – that of club captain.
Hendrickson has so far declined to be chosen over who could take the armband for the upcoming season, but given how complimentary the new manager has been to Czichos and how confident the European defender is comfortable with his new responsibility, you feel like the old man from Cologne. could, and perhaps should, have the honor of leading the new-look Fire at Soldier Field in 2022.