How McKennie sealed Leeds transfer following Orta’s vision and American connection

Weston McKennie to Leeds United is a done deal and Elland Road’s United States ties are growing, but Germany and Gelsenkirchen are behind the move.

McKennie joined a club that is star-studded in many ways: with Americans as head coach and main assistant, future American owners and, after McKennie’s transfer from Juventus, a team of three USMNT internationals. But as negotiations unfolded last week, German Bundesliga side Schalke were referenced in dispatches as the place where McKennie’s follow-up to Leeds began, the part of his career that caught the manager’s attention. football player Victor Orta and made him think.

Orta tends to work like that.

Initial interest turns into long-term appreciation and sometimes, like with Robin Koch, a deal is struck to sign a player Orta has been watching in the background for years.

It turns out that Leeds first thought of buying McKennie in 2020, the summer Juventus snapped him from Schalke, initially on loan. After that, with the move becoming permanent the following March, the idea of ​​signing him was dropped, but Orta is used to keeping in touch, keeping the door open and nurturing relationships in the meantime. Communication improves the chances of success if the opportunity arises again.

This is where Leeds found themselves with a week out of the January window this year, after an appeal to Juventus was met with a receptive response on the other end of the line. Before last Tuesday, when an Elland Road inquiry turned into active talk about the 24-year-old, it was uncertain whether McKennie would leave the Italian giants this month. He was aware that Leeds looked up to him and there was talk of interest from Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest in the Premier League, but none of this promised anything definitive.

McKennie, in any case, had been a regular presence in the Juventus squad for the first half of the season and for much of that month Leeds spent time thinking about Moroccan star Azzedine Ounahi. world Cup.

McKennie had been tracked by Leeds since his move to Schalke (Photo: Ronald Wittek/Pool via Getty Images)

Signing a new central midfielder was a temptation but not an absolute necessity. When they arrived in January, Leeds’ priorities were a defender capable of playing left-back and a quality striker – bases covered by the £10m ($12.3m) arrival of Max Red Bull Salzburg’s Wober and Georginio Rutter’s record catch. from Hoffenheim for up to £35 million ($43.2 million) with add-ons.

The club had allowed Mateusz Klich to move on after more than four years in England, ending his contract so he could join DC United ahead of the 2023 MLS season, which reduced their ranks amid ground, but while Wober and Rutter were considered essential. additions, the signing of a new central midfielder was dependent on availability and price. It was ultimately in the latter case that Leeds’ interest in Ounahi collapsed.

When they asked French club Angers about Ounahi last summer, they were told he would cost between £8m and £12m ($9.9m and $14.8m).

When they returned to Angers in this window, after their impressive World Cup with surprise semi-finalists Morocco, the club currently bottom of Ligue 1 were talking about a fee closer to £20m (24 .7 million), if not more. Serie A leaders Napoli were also quoted a high price for the 22-year-old who they refused to match. Orta told Leeds not to go overboard with him and, if necessary, to leave Ounahi alone.

Last week, Leeds were actively working on McKennie instead and Napoli hadn’t budged either.

It could have been a sign of the lack of active offers for Ounahi that on Sunday, with less than three days to go before the transfer deadline, Angers sold him to fellow French club Marseille for less than £10m (12 .3 million) in advance – a small sum considering his performances at the World Cup.


Leeds were told by Angers after the World Cup that Ounahi would cost around £20m ($24.7m) (Photo: Mike Hewitt – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

McKennie was valued much higher, above £20m ($24.7m) by Juventus – and that price was seen as realistic.

Leeds’ deal, a loan for the rest of this season with an option to buy which the Yorkshire side plan to activate this summer, will cost them closer to £30m ($37m)s They definitely take McKennie, reflecting his experience in the Champions League (24 appearances) and his status as one of the main members of the USMNT team.

Triggering that option to sign him full-time will depend on Leeds avoiding relegation, and there are other conditions attached as well.

Based on the assurances he has received of his role at Elland Road, McKennie can expect to be at the heart of Leeds’ Premier League campaign, provided he stays fit.

Juventus are in crisis after an investigation into their financial management resulted in a 15-point deduction in the league.

Head coach Max Allegri even spoke of relegation as a real threat to a side now 13th in Serie A after losing 2-0 to Monza on Sunday, a game that came as McKennie prepared to embark for the UK.

Nonetheless, a loan deal with an option for McKennie suits them. Even though Leeds had agreed a permanent deal now, Juventus did not plan to splash the cash on any new players in what was left of the January window.

It’s highly likely that his transfer will become permanent later this year, but if for some reason that plan fails, McKennie’s value won’t drastically diminish. As for Leeds, they avoid a scenario where they take on a £30m ($37m) fee and then fall back to the EFL in May. Contracts held by players of McKennie’s stature invariably include relegation release clauses.

American McKennie takes on Dutchman Virgil van Dijk in the 2022 World Cup Round of 16 (Photo: Chris Brunskill/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

After several days of discussing the structure of the agreement, a loan with an option to buy worked for everyone.

There were complications on Friday night, when McKennie thought the transfer was almost complete. By then he had begun to bid farewell to his teammates in Turin and was preparing to travel to England. However, further talks the following morning put all parties on the same page and by lunchtime Allegri confirmed to the Italian press that McKennie would not be involved against Monza. “He’s in the middle of a negotiation,” Allegri said. “I think the club have already reached an agreement with their new team.”

“It was stressful,” McKennie said Athleticism after officially joining Leeds tonight. He was first told that a bid for him from Yorkshire might be on the way a fortnight ago. “I’m home and for a minute I relax. The next day I call my agent like “do I need to pack, don’t I need to pack, what do I do?” I have three dogs, I set everything up in Turin, perfected. I’m trying to figure out what to do because I’m not just packing one suitcase.

“I’m the kind of player who lives in the moment, so when I heard that the case might be in the works, going through the process and everything was fine, in my head it was already ‘I’m leaving, I’m coming to Leeds.’ Then you start thinking “Is it happening, isn’t it, what’s happening?” It was a bit captivating, but as soon as I was told “you’re leaving tomorrow”, it’s good!”

Orta stalking McKennie from his days at Schalke didn’t mean the American connection to Leeds wasn’t important.

Tyler Adams, another central midfielder with whom McKennie grew up internationally and will now connect with the country, was instrumental in selling the move and location. Adams was at Elland Road tonight to greet McKennie and interview him for the club’s TV channel after he finalized his loan forms. While Juventus are struggling, they have been Italy’s dominant club for years and McKennie used to dabble in Champions League circles. Earlier interest from non-Champions League teams in England had not attracted him in the same way.

Jesse Marsch, the American head coach of Leeds, explained McKennie’s role in his line-up, and McKennie had an idea of ​​how Leeds wanted to evolve down the line, with a takeover by the minority shareholder 49ers Enterprises seething behind the scenes. The overall vision satisfied him enough to say yes.

Although a permanent move to Leeds for McKennie technically happens in the summer transfer window, last month has seen the club commit to £70m ($86.4m) players from the first team – beyond what was widely expected for January.

They also hammered out a deal on Monday for Diego Llorente to be loaned to Roma, a move which is intended to become permanent and could recoup the £18m ($22.2m) paid for a centre-back. who never managed to fully convince. in two and a half seasons in England.

It was the busiest January in years at Elland Road and a break from tradition for a club which for so long saw the winter window as a bad time to do business.

By getting McKennie over the line the day before the deadline, they completely pushed the boat out.

(Top photo: Leeds United Football Club)

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