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Why Weston McKennie will succeed at Juventus despite the doubters

Fabio Paratici pulled out a surprise move when he grabbed the American midfielder; here’s why the move will work.

Weston McKennie of Juventus FC arrives at Allianz Stadium in... Photo by Alberto Gandolfo/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Every tear shed in petulant protest to the signing of Weston McKennie is a little droplet of joy to me; every registered complaint is fodder for the steam engine of the USA-to-Turin train.

I should have suspected that, when news of the American’s impending transfer to the Bianconeri broke, the slimy interwebs would be immediately infested with transfer experts, tiny trolls who have now watched three YouTube videos of McKennie and looked at a couple of radars, intense prospect research which has gifted them the perception to see that this transfer is doomed from the start. Alas, if only Fabio Paratici had known about these radars!

Juventini: calma.

It is I, Hunter, and I am here to tell you that not only is the move for McKennie a sound investment, but that the American will surprise you.

Here’s why.

3 reasons why this is a bulletproof move

Firstly, let’s talk about why, even in a worst-case scenario, grabbing McKennie from FC Schalke 04 is a sound decision.

1. Financially friendly terms

Juventus have added McKennie with a €4.5 million loan fee and €18 million option to buy pending the achievement of certain “sportive objectives,” and there are some added performance-based coins added in there for good measure. But no matter how the actual contract is drawn up, this is surely designed so that the purchase eventually goes through.

Schalke are not Bayern Munich in terms of finances, and McKennie was one of the few bright spots on a mid-table side that finished in terrible form. What’s more, there was allegedly a lot of interest in the player, and I don’t think they’d offer such friendly terms without being pretty sure the purchase would happen.

Let’s assume that Juventus trigger the buy clause and add McKennie outright for that €18 million transfer fee. Adding a player of his upside, character, and age to the squad at that amount — which, these days even despite COVID-19, is a modest deal — is a low-risk move.

2. Offloading would not be an issue

There was a long list of clubs purportedly sniffing around for a McKennie transfer before Juventus swept in to seal the deal — Southampton, Leicester City, Everton, and Newcastle among them — and just a month ago the rumored price was around €26 million. Even assuming Juventus trigger the buy clause and then assuming that McKennie doesn’t work out, there is not going to be an issue moving McKennie in a year or two to the Premier League. Imagine a two-year trial at Juventus that doesn’t end well; McKennie will be just 24 years old with two years at one of Europe’s best clubs. He’s not an asset with a short shelf life.

3. Depth piece who will push those ahead of him

Juventus are not adding McKennie to star, start, or even presumably to add a ton of minutes. The American enters a midfield in dire need of a top-to-bottom revamp, a project that started with (more or less) swapping Miralem Pjanic for Arthur and parting ways with Blaise Matuidi. McKennie joins a unit that has Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, and Adrien Rabiot as the presumptive starters, plus a vastly more experienced Aaron Ramsey who, health issues and transfer speculation aside, would probably be higher up the pecking order as well (though the two players are so different that I assume they’d be deployed in particular tactical situations).

Furthermore, we’re not certain exactly how Andrea Pirlo is going to line up. I don’t think testing the waters of a double pivot is out of the question, especially with the addition of Dejan Kulusevski, a player whose positional flexibility would lend itself to something like a 4-2-3-1 in offense (the Swede playing the attacking midfielder position or the right wing) and a 4-3-3 in defense (the Swede sliding back to right center mid). If Pirlo did opt for a double pivot and Juventus had maybe just four or five central midfielders, there’s even less pressure on McKennie.

Lastly, I don’t think Juventus are done hunting for midfielders. In fact, the decision to add McKennie on these terms might actually be an indication of a more aggressive move in the works. Whether that’s a player like Houssem Aouar or Nicolo Zaniolo who would immediately slot into the starting lineup, or a creative player like Rodrigo de Paul who would be somewhere in the middle of the mix, I’m pretty confident that Juve are going to do something else before the new season begins. Assuming the club finally parts ways with Sami Khedira and retains Ramsey, that leaves McKennie in the following pool of players: Bentancur, Rabiot, Arthur, Ramsey, and Unknown New Guy.

Ultimately, whether Juventus line up with a three-man midfield or a double pivot, whether the roster has five or six central midfielders, McKennie is going to begin his Bianconeri career on the bench, a solid depth piece with proven skills in the Bundesliga. This is a smart, pragmatic move grabbing a young, ambitious player with needed strengths on a club-friendly financial deal. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, and the club can part ways with the youngster.

But the upside is huge.

This Texan is made of grinta

There is a strange tendency among statistics mongers these days to instantly call anyone who expresses any sort of skepticism about statistics an anti-statistics person, so I assume that’s coming and I look forward to the Hunter Sharpless radar that shows my advanced analytics about article-writing and how terrible I am.

Statistics are valuable, but they’re not definitive. I tend to think about them like a map; a map can show you what features may exist in a given landscape — mountains, certain topography, a nifty stream — but when you arrive at the actual concrete place you see the land is alive, and the disconnect between what the map shows and what you experience is palpable and immense.

Statistics do a poor job of accounting for context or fittedness. I.e., how McKennie played and performed at Schalke, with one set of players and one particular manager in one specific league, will not be the exact same way that he plays and performs at Juventus, with new teammates and Pirlo in Serie A. Statistics also do not account for ambition, grinta, desire, attitude, the complexities of context.

All of this is to come back and say that the statistics surrounding McKennie, in my opinion, do quite a good job of describing his existing skill set: He’s a ball-winner, he can carry the ball forward with the dribble, he’s a workhorse, and he’s a lethal aerial threat.

Those are great qualities, and Juventus need them. Pirlo has already stated that he wants to improve in winning the ball back after possession is lost; we know that Arthur is probably not the guy who’s going to make that happen. Bentancur hounds people well, and Rabiot improved in that department, but adding another player who’s willing and eager to pressure the hell out of the opposition sounds fantastic to me.

Here, though, is why McKennie will surprise his doubters and win over the Juventus faithful:

This Texan is made of grinta. He doesn’t flail like a fish when he gets choked; he turns into the Hulk. He’s a fighter.

This is a kid who chose scrapping for minutes at Juventus, with all the pressures of a gigantic club, over a much cushier situation at somewhere like Southampton. This is a kid who knew there’d be doubters, knew there’d be fans who had no idea who he was, knew there’d be people disappointed about the signing, yet walked into the Continassa all the same. This is a kid who hungers for the challenge.

There will continue to be little voices on the message boards and in the decrepit crannies of the internet who say McKennie isn’t good enough, isn’t Juventus material. I think he’s going to prove them wrong. I think that, by the end of the year, McKennie will have created a lasting spot for himself on this squad, perhaps not as a starter every single game, but as a player whose upside becomes more and more apparent and whose immediate capabilities make him a lethal choice in certain situations.