Weston McKennie is no longer on loan to Juventus. He's a full-fledged member of the Bianconeri.
Juventus exercised its option to secure the U.S. men's national team midfielder on a permanent transfer from Schalke on Wednesday and will pay the German club up to 25 million euros ($30.1 million) per their arrangement agreed upon over the summer. The flat fee is 18.5 million euros (or $22.3 million, paid over three years), with an additional 6.5 million euros ($7.8 million) dependent on benchmarks hit over the duration of McKennie's contract with Juventus, which now runs through June 30, 2025. Should the fee reach that maximum value, it would make McKennie the second-most expensive American after Christian Pulisic's $73 million move to Chelsea.
It's the ultimate moment of validation for the 22-year-old Texas native, who has not just proven he's fit in at Juventus—he's been one of the club's most reliable players in what's been an uncharacteristically lethargic season, at least by Juve's lofty standards.
“In the beginning I was thinking, yeah, it’s a loan and it feels maybe like a year-long trial,” McKennie told Sports Illustrated in October. “But [now] I feel like I belong here. I feel like I found my new home. I feel like this is a level that I can play at, and these guys of this caliber are the ones I’ve been dreaming about playing with. So to realize that I can keep up with these guys, I can play with these guys, I can play a role for this team and I can [make] an impact for this team, it doesn’t worry me as much as it may have in the beginning.”
As McKennie alluded to, he has transitioned to the Italian game quite well, while also showing his penchant for scoring. He has four Serie A goals and an unforgettable, acrobatic Champions League strike vs. Barcelona, marking a new single-season high for him. His work rate and overall play are what have drawn the admiration of manager Andrea Pirlo and his teammates, though.
"He has surprised me a lot," Brazil international and Juventus midfielder Arthur Melo recently told CBS. "He is an extremely intense player, he's always running all over the pitch and helps defensively, too. But he also scores a lot of goals, important ones for a midfielder. He's a very, very good midfielder and one of the best."
McKennie has started in 14 of his 21 Serie A appearances, with an additional six appearances (four starts) in the Champions League and three appearances (one start) in the Coppa Italia. He's already been part of one trophy-winning achievement, with Juventus lifting the Italian Supercoppa in January, and he'll get to play for another, with Juventus due to face Atalanta in the 2021 Coppa Italia final in May.
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That Juventus wound up making the move permanent was not some drawn-out saga that had its moments of uncertainty. Schalke anticipated this from the start, though it did leave the door open to welcome McKennie back with open arms. He still had three years left to run on his contract before making the move to Turin.
"It’s going to be a win-win situation. If he stays there permanently or if he will come back. But I think he will not return to Schalke next summer,” then Schalke director of sport Jochen Schneider told Sports Illustrated after the move initially occurred. “I wouldn’t call [the loan] a trial. That’s not the perfect description. I know that they see a long-term investment in him and that Juventus, they don’t want to keep him just for one year. This was clear.”
And now that investment has been confirmed. Even if McKennie were to return to Schalke, he might not even recognize much about the place. Sure, the walls at the Veltins-Arena may look the same, but the club he left behind is in complete disarray. Schalke just hired its fifth manager of the season and has ousted a number of other first-team staff members and officials as it desperately tries to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. Schalke, with or without McKennie, was upfront about its realities entering the season and knew it wouldn't be in position to contend for places in European competition due to financial hardships that hamstrung the club, but the fall has been steeper than it could have imagined. McKennie's timing to get out, as has been the case with many of his midfield runs, has been impeccable.
The money financed by McKennie's sale can at least help the club in one area as it builds back toward what it hopes is brighter days.
“The fact that Juventus have moved the permanent transfer deal for McKennie forward gives us more planning security with a view to next season,” Christina Rühö-Hamers, Schalke's director of finance, personnel and legal matters, said in a statement. “We wish Weston all the best for the future."
Meanwhile, for McKennie, more bright days are ahead in Italy. He broke new ground for Americans abroad upon his move to Juve, and now that his long-term future has been sorted, he looks to be a fixture as the club prepares to move on from its veteran core. Cristiano Ronaldo and Giorgio Chiellini are 36, Leonardo Bonucci is 33 and Juan Cuadrado is 32. Gianluigi Buffon, though no longer a regular starter, is 43. (He has also, wonderfully, nicknamed McKennie "Big Mac.") There is no rebuilding when it comes to a club the size of Juve, but there is a transition period that occurs simultaneously as the club looks to achieve its goals, and the former FC Dallas academy product is at the center of it.
“It is a great honor to be the first American player in the history of Juventus," McKennie said upon his introduction at Juve. "Having the opportunity to wear this shirt, representing my country and bringing young Americans closer to football makes me proud.
“There was no need to convince me to come to Juventus, because being here is a dream that has become a reality.”
That dream will now continue for the foreseeable future.