The Scotland international explains why he’s quit English football to play in Major League Soccer.

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After playing in a UEFA Cup Final with Celtic and winning the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic, what made you choose underachieving Chicago Fire?
I have always had an ambition to experience a different country. I’ve played at the top level in Scotland and England. Everything just sort of happened in a whirlwind six days when I came to Chicago to look around. When I met the manager, Frank Yallop, and what he said about the plans, made me want to buy into what Chicago could become.

After playing in a UEFA Cup Final with Celtic and winning the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic, what made you choose underachieving Chicago Fire?
I have always had an ambition to experience a different country. I’ve played at the top level in Scotland and England. Everything just sort of happened in a whirlwind six days when I came to Chicago to look around. When I met the manager, Frank Yallop, and what he said about the plans, made me want to buy into what Chicago could become.

How are you getting on with your new team-mates?
We got the perfect chance to get to know each other when we went to England for our pre-season training camp. It’s the perfect scenario. You have breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and train together. You try and make as much of an effort to sit at different tables as possible and get to know the people you are going to play with. From a football point of view, you try and learn people’s strengths and weaknesses and they do the same with you.

How valuable is Chicago’s huge indoor training facility in a city that had 21 inches of snow in January?
I just missed that snow because I had flown back to start my removal process. Chicago came to a standstill. I’m told it was one of the worst snowstorms in a long time. But when I was at Celtic we had a couple of the worst winters and people were stranded on the motorway overnight because of the snowdrifts. The Fire training dome will really pay for itself because we won’t have any disruption.

San Jose Earthquakes coach Dominic Kinnear says MLS clubs must switch to soccer-specific stadiums. What are your impressions of Chicago’s Toyota Park?
I’m told the Fire used to play at Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears are, which held 66,000. That’s too big. The Fire have had this 20,000 stadium since 2006. It was a big thing for the club to get its own ground and we have a good following of 16,000. To get 16,000 in a season that was not great is a good turnout, but hopefully we can get higher than that. It’s a bit like Wigan in that we are competing with other sports. Wigan is a rugby league town, while Chicago has NBA, NFL, ice hockey and two really big baseball teams.

Did you sound out your old Celtic team-mate Darren O’Dea about an MLS move because he played for Toronto?
I didn’t speak to Darren in January, although I had previously. I did the same with Kenny Miller and Barry Robson, who I played with for Celtic and Scotland. My friend Steve Guppy, another ex-Celtic player, was a coach out there. And I spoke to Jamie Smith, who won the MLS title with Colorado Rapids and came through the youth team with me at Celtic. He played in our 2003 UEFA Cup run and is now coaching. I always spoke to people generally about moving to the US, but when the chance actually came I did not want to seek anyone’s opinion because it’s something I had to figure out for myself if I wanted it.

There has been a rise in status of MLS in the eyes of British players, with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard signing up. Did that encourage your decision?
It probably did, though only subconsciously. Their signings certainly raised the profile of
the league in the UK. But there are other top foreign footballers moving, too. Kaka is going to Orlando and David Villa is joining Lampard at New York. Robbie Keane is still there and there are a lot of top US players at Seattle, like Clint Dempsey. All of that makes an impact on you. Lampard and Gerrard moving has raised the profile of the MLS for any British players who get the chance to go now.
There has been a rise in status of MLS in the eyes of British players, with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard signing up. Did that encourage your decision?
It probably did, though only subconsciously. Their signings certainly raised the profile of
the league in the UK. But there are other top foreign footballers moving, too. Kaka is going to Orlando and David Villa is joining Lampard at New York. Robbie Keane is still there and there are a lot of top US players at Seattle, like Clint Dempsey. All of that makes an impact on you. Lampard and Gerrard moving has raised the profile of the MLS for any British players who get the chance to go now.

Fire start the season with a trip to LA Galaxy. Do you know Robbie Keane?
Unfortunately I only got to train with Robbie a couple of times when he came to Celtic on loan from Spurs because I was injured. He was brilliant at Celtic, I think he got 20 goals, and he has been doing just as well for Galaxy.

One of the hardest adjustments for British players in the MLS is the humidity in summer time games. How will you cope?
It is a hurdle I will have to overcome. Some of the day kick-offs in summer will be testing, but I have played in pre-season matches in July in the US with Celtic, Aston Villa and Wigan.

Are you worried about the effect the long flights between North American cities might have on you body?
The schedule is worked out sensibly so you are not going to be in Vancouver and then LA. I think the major difference in MLS is that we don’t fly back home on the night of the game, as European clubs often do. They fly back the day after. I think that helps the body recover.

Is Scotland manager Gordon Strachan planning to come and watch you in MLS?
I am not sure. I had a few phone calls with the manager and he is happy about the prospect of me coming to play in a top league. His only advice was “just go where you are the most wanted”.

Interview by Phil Gordon