Aston Villa transfer target is self-confessed 'Joker in the pack' having improbable last laugh

Weston McKennie impressed for Juventus last season
-Credit: (Image: Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images)

After a difficult loan spell at Leeds United, nobody expected Weston McKennie to emerge as one of the top midfielders in Serie A and perhaps Juventus' most consistent player last season.

It's the difference just a few months makes in football as the USMNT star went from being scapegoated in Leeds' relegation to the Championship to enjoying a remarkable renaissance at the Old Lady under Max Allegri. It became apparent quite quickly that McKennie's future could lie elsewhere after he was excluded from parts of pre-season having returned to Turin last summer.

But while a move away never materialised despite interest from Germany and England, Allegri gave the midfielder a word of advice. "How did I transform McKennie? I didn't transform him," he explained. "I just told him during the summer that he had a great chance of staying at Juventus as long as he started running on July 15 and stopped on May 26."

READ | Nassef Sawiris launches scathing attack on Premier League FFP rules amid Aston Villa legal action claim

READ | Aston Villa and the 900 fans - what happens next as bigger Villa Park project explained

The former Bianconeri boss added: "He has not changed, but grown. At Leeds, he matured and came back with a great desire to stay and do well."

The 25-year-old started 29 Serie A games last season and featured in all but five of their 43 fixtures across the season in all competitions. He played the full 90 minutes of Juventus' Coppa Italia final victory over Atalanta.

“I left Juventus after the winter break last year and went to Leeds, it didn’t go as planned, obviously, I didn’t have the best performances and I felt like I let certain people down," McKennie told Sky Sport.

“At the end of the day I think it was important to have an experience like that at this moment of my career, because when I came back, it felt like I was coming here for the first time.

“When I first came to Juventus, nobody knew who I was, everybody doubted me, everyone against me. It put the chip back on my shoulder and that is when I perform best, when I prove that I can do it and I do belong. So it was nice to come back and have that feeling again."

His turnaround at Juve last season was so impressive that Turin-based newspaper Tuttosport ranked him as the club's best player of the season so far at the start of the year.

“When I left Leeds, I knew I had a bad showing," McKennie told 8by8 Magazine. "I knew I didn’t have the time that I thought I was going to have or that maybe I should have had. It put me in a mindset that when I came back here to Juventus, I was starting brand new. I’m going back to Juventus like it’s my first time. I have to prove myself all over again.”

A key reason why he remained at Juve and managed to play as many games as he did last term was due to his versatility. He has always been a player capable of covering the pitch with energy and power, but Juve fans were surprised to see him play a wider role on the right at Allegri's demand in the early months of last season.

He told DAZN: “It’s not really a role that’s new for me. I played it back at Schalke too, you could say I’m a Joker in the pack, I put the team first and don’t really care what role I’m playing. Obviously, I have a preferred role, but anything I can do to help the team, I’ll do it.

"The things I’ve learned here are definitely tactical. Playing in Germany it was more back and forth, the same in England, lots of running, but here it is very tactical, all about the position. That is something I needed to improve in my game instead of running around like a headless chicken and doing things I could’ve done easier.”

Aston Villa remain locked in talks with Juve over the sale of Douglas Luiz for cash plus McKennie and Samuel Iling-Junior. Despite his struggles in the Premier League at Leeds two seasons ago, Monchi and Unai Emery have clearly seen something they like.

Juve fan blog Black and white and read all over wrote: "I can think of no more improbable story than the American midfielder transforming himself into a crucial player for this team. McKennie has gone from a flop at Juventus to a flop at Leeds to a defensive bastion back at Juventus. His ability to play wingback on the right or as a midfielder is extremely valuable with Allegri and the current roster.

"McKennie’s aerial presence is helpful on both sides of the ball, and we’ve seen glimpses in the past (as well as on the U.S. men’s national team) of some creative playmaking abilities, but right now this team needs him to be a force defensively, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s contributing defensively without a lot of flash; this is exactly the type of player you want on your team, the glue."

Click here to join our Aston Villa WhatsApp Community to receive the latest news and transfer headlines.