November 24, 2017

Why Weston McKennie matters so much for Schalke 04

S04 Youngsters McKennie and Wright

These past two years have been tough for FC Schalke. The third biggest club in the Bundesliga has had trouble keeping hold of players. Which is normal. Plenty of clubs sell off players and keep hanging around in European competitions, but Schalke weren’t selling them, they were helpless to stop them from leaving for free. They had an unprecedented number of players leaving for free – crucial players too. Sead Kolasinac, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Joel Matip, just to name a few, all of whom could have fetched a nice price tag or three. Instead they brought nothing.

And it isn’t over. Leon Goretzka is leaving for free this coming summer. He’s one of the most valuable midfield commodities in world football. And Max Meyer might not be far behind him, although Meyer has been less definite about his will to leave, leaving some room for hope.

Schalke have always managed to recoup their losses. They aren’t run by a bunch of soccer-illiterate businessmen who just want to make a buck. The history behind the club alone keeps them relevant at all times. But it’s hard for supporters to continuously see their favorites walk out the door, seemingly never having any intention of staying. At some point you have to stop the outflow of stars.

And it’s even tougher because you have the long-term guys that stuck with the club through the Bosmans, guys like Benedikt Höwedes, who supporters could always invest their hopes in, because he wanted to be here.

And then he left too.

As it stands, there are no guarantees in the first team picture. By “guarantees,” I mean long-term, Schalke-for-life kind of players. Every team needs a few of these guys. There are some younger, potential-ridden players like Thilo Kehrer, but when you see long-time Schalke players like Goretzka rejecting all chances of staying—and he’s been here since his youth days—you start to feel a bit jaded about who might stay and who might not. Especially when you see someone like Höwedes leave too.

But they may have finally turned that corner, led by one man in particular.

When Weston McKennie signed his five-year deal earlier this year, it may not have looked like too terribly much because he’s just a 19-year-old plying his trade at the beautiful game. There are lots of those. Lots of guys to get excited about for the future. But he’s so much more than an up-and-comer. He’s a here-and-still-coming.

McKennie may have been one of those fan favorites that has made a habit of walking out of the door for free when they hit their prime years. Schalke didn’t allow that to happen this time around and that was helped along by the Royal Blue enthusiasm that McKennie has shown for this club.

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He even said when he signed the deal that he’d love to stay at Schalke forever. Now, we won’t know what happens until he actually does it, obviously, but to have someone like McKennie openly investing himself in the club, that means quite a bit more than when it happens to any other team out there.

And that feeling is only multiplied when you see him play the way he did against Freiberg. McKennie was a human wrecking ball out there. He covered every blade of grass, he was threading passes through the smallest of openings and he was defending like a man possessed. He led the team in tackles won, he covered the most ground of anyone out there and he even played the full 90, something that has only happened one other time, and that was out of necessity due to injuries.

In a word, McKennie was like Goretzka. I know, it sounds crazy, but give him more time to put together some hard stats and he will prove to be the link that takes Schalke from the Bosman era to the next, where they are invested in these young guys like Breel Embolo and Amine Harit for the long haul.

McKennie has all the facets developing that Goretzka has presently. Maybe he’s a bit lacking in fine-tuning, but Goretzka has a three-year head start. Let the young American catch up without interruption and see what happens.

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Josh Sippie

Raised on a Midwest American diet of baseball and fake football, Josh was late to the football parade, but likes to consider himself the conductor of that parade now that he lives in New York City. While he initially fell for the Premier League, the Bundesliga claimed him with the help of FC Schalke and their amazingness. He can be still be found ranting about Arsenal at Pain in the Arsenal, on his own website We The Ultras and on Twitter @sippenator101.

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