After Weston McKennie was sent home from the United States squad due to a COVID-19 protocol violation, Oli Coates asks whether his actions will push him away from Juventus.
The standards expected of young men who’ve only just turned 23 are very different when you’re an international footballer who plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world. As such, Weston McKennie finds himself making headlines for all the wrong reasons this week.
Although video has emerged of the Juventus midfielder leaving the American team bus without a mask and stopping to sign autographs, the exact reason for his expulsion from the USA squad ahead of this week’s World Cup qualifier against Honduras remains something of a mystery.
Indeed, former USMNT star Landon Donovan appeared to suggest something has happened behind the scenes for which McKennie has a lot of making up to do. America’s joint record goalscorer said: “I’m privy to what happened, I’m not going to announce that publicly.”
Given Donovan went on to state that he was “incredibly disappointed in Weston”, before referring to his countryman’s “level of selfishness” for a transgression that he believes has led to McKennie’s relationship with his team mates being “almost beyond repair”, there must have been something more serious than failing to wear a mask and signing an autograph or two.
What is clear though, is that the offence has been deemed serious enough to warrant his expulsion from the squad just before an incredibly important fixture. The States have failed to win either of their opening two qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, after drawing with both El Salvador and Canada.
The fact that World Cup qualification is on the line emphasises both the scale of McKennie’s indirection, and the potential damage it’s done to his relationships within the US squad. And unfortunately for him, it isn’t the first time a breach of COVID-19 rules has been to the detriment of his team.
McKennie missed the Derby della Mole against Torino back in April after hosting a party along with Juventus teammates Paulo Dybala and Arthur. The Old Lady drew the Turin derby 2-2 in the absence of the trio, with Cristiano Ronaldo netting a late equaliser to salvage both a point and local pride.
Given that transgression came just a matter of weeks after Juve had exercised the option on his loan to make McKennie’s transfer to the Allianz Stadium permanent, the timing was not well received by the club. Reports have indicated that Juventus are similarly dismayed at the latest furore surrounding their €18.5m man.
But having only turned 23 at the end of August, can McKennie be forgiven for lapses in judgement? Most people at that age are able to make their mistakes out of the public eye. However, there’s certainly an argument that he should know better.
McKennie has been a professional football for more than five years now. He has 25 international caps under his belt. He plays for one of the biggest and best-supported clubs on the planet. He has spent his Juve career training and playing alongside model pros in the mould of Ronaldo, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
If Donovan’s comments are anything to go by, McKennie has not learnt from his mistake of just five months ago. He is far from alone in being a footballer to break the rules over the last 18 months or so, though, and not the first to hit the headlines on multiple occasions.
He is alone, however, as the first and only American to play for Juventus. His is a unique position, and perhaps one he is yet to truly grasp the importance and privilege of. Football careers are fleeting and can be filled with regret for those who fail to reach their potential.
McKennie hasn’t got this far without having a head on his shoulders. What he needs to do now is get it down and work hard in training to convince both his club and national teammates of his dedication to their collective goals, not to mention his new coach at Juventus, Max Allegri. And what that means is recapturing the Scudetto for Juve and reaching the 2022 World Cup with the US.
There’s a real player within, but McKennie was strongly linked with a move to the Premier League during the transfer window, an indication that he doesn’t hold a position of great strength at the Allianz Stadium. Given the likes of Aston Villa, along with Everton and Tottenham, were the clubs being linked to him, the 23-year-old could be set for a significant step down at a crucial point of his career.
If he’s going to learn how to be a part of an elite football club, he needs to do it now. Juve added Manuel Locatelli to their midfield ranks over the summer, and McKennie seemingly has a lot of work to do to get into Allegri’s first-choice XI. Juventus had already put the American on the market this summer and the latest development haven’t surely helped his reputation in Turin. Mentality plays a massive role at this level, and perhaps the American should have learned it earlier.