The Weston McKennie-to-Juventus transfer came out of nowhere.
I say that because, until four days ago, we had pretty much never uttered the words “Weston McKennie” here on this blog. It’s nothing personal against him, we just never even had considered it. Neither had the Italian, German or American press. Nobody, until the middle of the work week, had connected McKennie and Juventus before.
And yet, as we sit a day away from a new work week, McKennie has officially moved to Juve on loan, signed his new contract, posed for a couple of pictures next to Pavel Nedved and then probably opened up his phone for the first time in an hour or two and likely saw hundreds upon hundreds of texts from friends and family.
It is a move that, week ago, wasn’t even in thought process. Not even just a little.
That is why it’s convenient in times like these where we have a blog on the SB Nation network that has watched McKennie — and the United States men’s national team as a whole — a whole lot more than I have, you have or a lot of people have.
And that’s why one of the first reactions I had when the rush of rumors about Juventus agreeing to a loan deal for McKennie popped up was to hit up the good folks at Stars and Stripes FC, SBN’s blog for all things that have to do with the United States’ men’s and women’s national teams, and learn more about young Weston. (He’s still young even though he just celebrated a birthday.)
Today, with McKennie’s move to Italy now officially official, we are joined by Stars and Stripes FC’s Donald Wine II, who was nice enough to do the heavy lifting and give us some time to educate us all about Juventus’ newest midfielder.
Away we go!
BWRAO: The short and sweet of it: What is Juventus getting in Weston McKennie?
SSFC: They’re getting a hard worker, a box-to-box midfielder that can do some of the dirty work on both ends of the field. He can help an attack move forward quickly, but he also tracks back and plays defense. He’s versatile, and because of that you can keep him on the field when making adjustments. While he spent most of his time playing in central midfield, he also has played defensive midfield, attacking mid, center back, right wing, right back, and center forward in his time at Schalke. Juve is going to love McKennie’s hustle, his ability to grind in the midfield, but to also track back on defense to shut down any opposing attack.
BWRAO: Going off that, what does McKennie do well? What does he need to improve to become the kind of player that might be able to stick at a club like Juventus?
SSFC: His tenacity is his biggest strength. He’s all over the place and he has a great work ethic on defense. He’ll win the ball from people and start the attack going the other way. As I mentioned above, he does all the little things on defense that you want in a box-to-box midfielder. He’s not afraid to go at attackers, go get the ball in the air, and he flies into tackles. Even if he loses the ball, he turns right around and gets back on defense to try and snuff out any counterattack.
Where he needs improvement is in his passing. He doesn’t create a lot of chances, and his pass completion rate can definitely be better. Being on Juventus under Andrea Pirlo, he will need to improve his passing and his positioning. As he underwent his medical on his 22nd birthday, he still has plenty of time to grow in those areas.
BWRAO: You mentioned just how young he still is. At 22 years old, just how much more room to grow does McKennie have?
SSFC: The sky’s the limit for McKennie, and he will learn a lot with the Old Lady. He still has the chance to become a world-class defender in the midfield, and his versatility will allow him to grow in several roles. If he can also become a bigger threat to scoring than he is, he will provide opposing teams headaches every week he’s in the lineup. The best thing about it is that he’s going to be going up against some of the best strikers on the planet both in practice and on the field, and he will not shy away from them. The skills he learned at Schalke will help Juve become more defensively sound in the midfield this season.
BWRAO: How would you sum up his time at Schalke?
SSFC: Frustrating, because Schalke has been so inconsistent. In 2019, they were in the round of 16 of the Champions League and one of the teams hoping to take a swing at Bayern Munich to poach the Bundesliga title. In the second half of this past season, Schalke was abysmal. McKennie was far and away the best player on the field for the team during the last 15 matches of the season. Because of their inconsistency, you never knew where McKennie was going to play each week. Because of that, there were times where he couldn’t form a rhythm because even after a great game in central midfield, the next week you’d see him at right back and with a game plan that took him mostly out of the action. In spite of that frustration, McKennie was able to excel and become one of Schalke’s bright stars during his four seasons there.
BWRAO: Juventus’ midfield has been a mess the last few seasons. Do you think, be it as a backup or something more, McKennie could help improve that area of the field?
SSFC: Absolutely, particularly with defense. Pirlo mentioned in his press conference introducing him as head coach that he told the team he wants players to keep the ball and get back quickly if they lose it. That’s something that Juve wasn’t terrific at doing the past few seasons, and tracking back on defense is one of McKennie’s great qualities. If he can hang onto the ball and make smart decisions with it, Pirlo’s going to have a hard time keeping him out of the lineup because McKennie plays a style in the exact way that Pirlo seems to want his team to play.
BWRAO: Last question: From a USMNT point of view, how big is it to have McKennie be the first-ever American to join Juventus?
SSFC: Huge. The last regular USMNT player to play in Serie A was Michael Bradley when he was at Chievo in 2011-2012 and Roma from 2012-2014. But, to have an American with the Bianconeri? It’s massive. They’re a team that has won Serie A nine straight times, they’re consistently challenging for Champions League titles, they have one of the greatest players of all time, and they’re one of the biggest clubs in the world. Having an American on that team means more American eyeballs on the team and the league. And, from a national team standpoint, if McKennie excels at a club as big as Juve, it means he’s becoming an elite player and that will only help (the United States’) efforts to get back to the World Cup. It will also help Americans everywhere get roles at bigger clubs, just like Christian Pulisic at Chelsea has opened the eyes of several teams to getting top American talent on the field.