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Every word as Weston McKennie opened up about his rollercoaster experience at Juventus

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Weston McKennie opened up about his rollercoaster experience at Juventus in a recent interview with The Athletic.

McKennie described his initial move to the Italian giants as a reminder of the challenges American players face in Europe. However, he thrives under pressure, using it to fuel his focus and effort.

“It wasn’t scary or exciting (as a challenge, ed.), but it reminded me of the experience of being an American playing football for a top club in Europe. It’s something I feel we all have to face when we go to Europe,” he said.

“But I feel happy when I have to challenge myself again, because then it makes me even more honest with myself in terms of effort and focus. Something just clicks. It’s like a recipe. I know the ingredients to make it and then I just… ‘boom’. Without measuring anything, I can just throw it in. I know it’s going to taste good.”

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His return to Juventus after a loan spell at Leeds was met with unexpected difficulties. He lacked basic amenities like a locker and faced a cold shoulder from the club despite his established presence. This treatment only motivated McKennie to prove himself on the pitch.

“I knew it was going to be tough but I didn’t know it was going to be like this; I didn’t have my locker anymore, I didn’t have a room in the hotel, I didn’t have a parking space. I changed in the locker room with the youth team players, even though there were players in the main locker room who had never played for Juve because they were always on loan,” he said.

“And I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’ve only been gone for six months. I come back and they treat me like this.’ I couldn’t even get my shirt number (14), even though no one else had taken it. I thought, ‘OK, guys, you want to treat me like this? I’ll just show you on the pitch.’

“I’m not a troublemaker. I don’t like to cause problems. I don’t like awkward situations. I don’t like drama. I just try to let my football, my actions and my work ethic show everything about me, because that’s when I feel my best.”

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He credited manager Allegri for believing in him and pushing him to earn his place back in the team. McKennie sees his struggles as a source of growth, highlighting his rise from a doubted newcomer to a key player with over 100 appearances for Juventus.

“He put me back in contention. My job was to make that decision much harder for them. He grounded me… The moment I feel most comfortable and most honest is when I put my head down and work. That’s where I’ve had my greatest success,” McKennie said.

“I left Schalke and went to Juventus and nobody knew me. Everyone doubted me. It’s too big a club. I’ll never play. But look at me now. Three and a half years later, over 100 games with Juventus and I’m one of the most played players. I grow when my back is against the wall and everyone doubts me. That’s how I became the player I am.”

The loan spell at Leeds, however, proved to be a low point. McKennie acknowledged a period of comfort at Juventus and admitted the move to Leeds was intended to experience the Premier League. Despite his enthusiasm, the constant managerial changes and overall poor performance of the team left him disappointed.

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“My time at Leeds was probably one of the lowest points, if not the lowest point, of my professional career. I always look on the bright side because I was at Juventus, playing week in and week out, and maybe I had developed a bit of comfort or complacency, knowing that I would play on the weekend,” he said.

“Going to Leeds and having the performance I had there and the way it went in general – four managers in five months (Marsch was replaced by interim manager Michael Skubala, then Javi Gracia and Sam Allardyce came in, ed.), just nothing went as I had imagined.”

While acknowledging the passionate Leeds fanbase, McKennie expressed his preference for Champions League football. He viewed the loan as a way to showcase himself in the Premier League, a strategy that ultimately did not pay off.

“With all due respect to Leeds and their fans, I love Champions League football. I love playing at the highest level. Leeds was more of a place where I wanted to go to experience something new, the Premier League. But there’s no better place to be seen by Premier League teams than playing in the Premier League,” he said.

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Finally, McKennie discussed the emotional toll of criticism. Although he considers himself resilient, facing negativity on social media takes its toll. He desires a connection with fans and feels the unforgiving nature of football doesn’t always consider the pressure players put on themselves to succeed.

The relegation with Leeds was a particularly emotional moment, marking the first time besides the World Cup exit that he broke down in tears. The crushing loss highlighted his deep aversion to losing and the burden of unmet expectations.

“I like to think I’m a tough person. When you get little comments here and there, it’s easy enough to ignore them. But then when you open your phone and the first thing you see on social media is always something negative, it’s hard to ignore,” he said.

“I guess it’s hard for me because I like it when people can relate to me and I feel like I’m always a happy person. Football is a world that can be unforgiving at times. People obviously don’t know what football players go through and the stress that football players put on themselves to perform, because it’s not that we want to play badly.

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“It’s not that we want to lose games. It’s just that sometimes you have ups and downs, so it hurts. It was probably the first time, other than the World Cup exit, that I cried, after the last game of the season at Leeds, when we were officially relegated. I hate losing and I felt like I had really let down the expectations that people had for me.”

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