Hard-working and down-to-earth, Weston McKennie and Schalke are cut from the same cloth. - © Lars Baron/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images
Hard-working and down-to-earth, Weston McKennie and Schalke are cut from the same cloth. - © Lars Baron/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

Schalke's Weston McKennie: "My style of play matches what this city represents"

USA international Weston McKennie has transformed from a star-spangled young hopeful into a first-team regular for Schalke over the last two years, a fact he attributes to the hard-working attitude he shares with the club and its supporters.

The 21-year-old made his Bundesliga debut back in May 2017 and broke into the starting line-up in the following 2017/18 season, as well as making his senior debut for the US men's national team. Since then he has made over 80 competitive appearances for the Royal Blues and become a fan-favourite among the famously passionate supporters at the Veltins Arena.

Asked about that close connection to the fans in a region that prides itself on graft, McKennie was in no doubt that his tireless battling and never-say-die approach resonates with the locals.

Watch: McKennie's first Bundesliga goal this season in the Matchday 25 draw with Hoffenheim

"I think it's one of the reasons a player like [former Schalke and USA midfielder] Jermaine Jones or myself is really loved at a club like this, is supported at a club like this and feels at home at a club like this," he said in an interview with ESPN's Herculez Gomez. "My style of play matches what the city represents. That's why I feel at home here and I'm happy here as well."

As such, McKennie was quick to get involved in helping out during the coronavirus crisis. Schalke's entire first-team squad have given up their wages to support other employees, while the midfielder also donated to an initiative to help the elderly who are unable to go out for groceries in the Gelsenkirchen area.

"The area I live in is a little bit like Texas as there's a lot of farmland," he said. "I go walking with the dogs, play video games, watch movies and make TikTok's right now. My situation is similar to many people. I'm staying inside.

McKennie and Schalke have been practising social distancing during training this month. - Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

"I try to go outside as little as possible because nobody wants to get the virus. If I go outside or go to the supermarket I cover my mouth and face. I'm doing everything I can do socially distance myself from people and minimise my outings."

His outings on the football pitch have been rather different, however, with McKennie having earned a reputation for closing down spaces quickly and for being able to operate in a number of positions.

This season he has won 60 per cent of all aerial duels, covered 115 miles in 20 Bundesliga appearances and played in defence, midfield and in attack.

"I can't just play one position," he said when asked about his preferred role. "I can't just play offence or just defence. For me, the best time I've ever had was playing as a number eight, where I was free to come back to get the ball and to go forward as well.

"I may not be the person that scores or assists that often, but I feel like I'm good at connecting plays or that defences are aware of just my presence. I have to roam a little bit.

"With that strength is also a weakness," he continued. "One of my weaknesses is having the tactical discipline to stay in one position. When you get to the highest level, that's what's important. You don't need to run 80 yards. It's about playing smart."

That is one of a number of lessons McKennie has learned since moving to the Bundesliga, and he is in no two minds as to why it is increasingly the league of choice for the best youngsters on the planet - including himself, Jadon Sancho, Christopher Nkunku and Tyler Adams, among many others.

"The reason the Bundesliga is one of the top leagues in the world and one of the leagues many of us are coming to is that they give opportunity. For improving your craft there's no better place for young players to be than Germany. Over here you learn discipline, professionalism and work rate really quick."