Weston McKennie: Simply put, it’s an awesome club
Just a year ago, Weston McKennie was an U19 player. Since then, he’s made 17 appearances in German professional football as well as making his debut for the American national side. In an interview with schalke04.de, the midfielder looked back on what he has achieved over the last year and spoke a bit about a person whose opinion means a lot to him.
Weston, what did you get up to in your short time off over Christmas?
I was back home in the USA. I was in Orlando for a bit and then I travelled to Dallas on Christmas Eve as my family lives there. In comparison to Germany, the biggest day in the USA is 25th December. There was a lot of good food, and we enjoyed the time we had together. I spent New Year with my parents, brother and sister by watching a comedy show followed by watching a fireworks display.
Did you manage to sit down and reflect a bit on what has happened in your life this past year as well? Last year you were an U19 player. Now you’ve made 14 Bundesliga and three DFB-Pokal appearances, as well as your debut for the American national side – including a goal!
Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this is all real. But I’ll never let myself get too carried away. I want to keep working hard. I learned as a kid that it’s really important to stay grounded. I know that there are lots of things that I need to improve upon. My family, my teammates, the coaches and lots of other people at Schalke have been really helpful to this point in my Schalke journey, and I’m really thankful for that.
I’m a really positive person - I love to laugh
There’s hardly a second when you’re not laughing. Is that one of the secrets to your success?
A little bit maybe. I’m a really positive person, and I love to laugh a lot. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get down to business when needs be. In the U19s, our coach Norbert Elgert always said to the rest of the boys that they shouldn’t laugh as much as I do (grins). I can change between the two emotions really quickly though. When I need to be serious, then I’ll be serious.
What sort of role has Norbert Elgert played in your journey from the youth ranks to the Bundesliga?
He’s been instrumental. When I came to Germany from Dallas two years ago to show what I could do in a trial and a friendly against Rot-Weiß Oberhausen, I knew this was the place for me before it had even really begun. In my own eyes I didn’t really play that well – maybe because I was a little nervous. Norbert Elgert saw something in me. He said that we have time to help me develop. It was an amazing feeling and made me really believe in myself. I’m so, so grateful for everything he has done for me!
Do you stay in regular contact?
Absolutely. Norbert is still a really important source of advice for me. When I feel like I’ve done something wrong, he’s always there at the other end of the phone. He gives me a lot of belief and really useful advice. It helps me a lot. His feedback means very much to me. We also meet up a lot to have a chat. Thanks to him, my journey to the first team has been quite short.
The regular feedback from Norbert Elgert means so much to me
Your friend Haji Wright made the jump from the U19s to the first team with you in the summer. He’s currently with SV Sandhausen to gain game experience. How’s he finding it?
Really good, even if he always says that Sandhausen is really quiet (laughs). Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see him that much lately. A three hour drive isn’t exactly the biggest of distances, but to do that for a game on the PlayStation or a coffee – that’s too much. We call and text each other regularly though. Haji follows how we’re doing very closely and is proud to be a part of this club. It’s important to him that he gets a lot of game time with Sandhausen. I think he’s doing really well. I think this experience will be really helpful for him, and that he has a chance to represent Schalke in the future.
You recently extended your contract at the club until 30th June 2022. How long did you have to read over the offer before you signed it?
Hardly at all! Schalke is simply an amazing club – the fans, the stadium, the history and of course my teammates and the coaches. Domenico Tedesco trusts me, and just like Norbert Elgert, he’s helping me to get better. I feel very much at home here and I look forward to something new every day when I get turn up at the club’s grounds. I would never have come close to going anywhere else, if I was to know how perfect Schalke was going to be for me.
How does your family follow the games from the USA?
My family regularly stays up late so that they won’t miss any of my games. Sometimes, they will record the games and watch them a bit later because of the time difference. My mum and dad came to visit me in Schalke recently, however, and were there in the VELTINS-Arena to watch our victory over Hamburg live. They were also there for the derby. They were completely fascinated with that crazy game.
In Benidorm it’s all about getting ready for the Rückrunde. What goals have you set for yourself?
I hope that we continue to rack up points and show how good we are as a team. I want to contribute to that as best I can. The team spirit is amazing. I think that rubs off on the fans too. My personal goal is very clear: to get better each and every day. I’m working really hard to do that.