Only two hours after selling Daryl Janmaat to Watford on Wednesday, Newcastle United had already confirmed the arrival of his replacement.
DeAndre Yedlin, who joins the club from Tottenham Hotspur for a reported £5 million fee, will now be the player tasked with manning the right-back slot in Rafa Benitez’s side, and there is certainly an argument to make that he could potentially prove an upgrade over his Dutch predecessor.
Arguably one of the quickest players in world football, Yedlin has enjoyed a meteoric rise since joining the Seattle Sounders in January 2013 as the club’s first-ever homegrown signing following a two-year spell at the University of Akron, where he originally started out life as a winger.
Earning 30 starts and a place on the MLS All-Star team during his rookie season, the Washington native was soon being widely hailed as future US national team star and subsequently made his debut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side as a late substitute in a 2-0 friendly win over South Korea in February 2014.
He was nevertheless a surprise inclusion in the 23-man squad for the World Cup in Brazil a few months later given his lack of international experience, but the promising speedster proceeded to announce himself on the global stage with a handful of eye-opening substitute appearances on the right flank, including in the 2-1 extra-time defeat to Belgium in the round of 16.
His promising performances for the US inevitably led to interest from a host of top European clubs over the following weeks, including Roma, Bayern Munich and Liverpool, but it was Tottenham who ultimately won the race for the pacey defender’s signature that August in a £2.5 million deal.
Yedlin had unfinished business in the US, however, and agreed to stay with the Sounders for the rest of the MLS 2014 season before Spurs would determine whether to bring him across the Atlantic in January 2015 or wait until the following summer.
He later arrived in London midway through the 2014-15 Premier League campaign after helping his hometown club win their fourth US Open Cup title and first-ever Supporters’ Shield, but the two-time All-Star soon discovered that breaking into the first-team at White Hart Lane would be no easy feat.
With Kyle Walker firmly entrenched as Mauricio Pochettino’s first-choice right-back, the US international was forced to settle for just one 12-minute cameo against Aston Villa over rest of the season, and after Kieran Trippier’s subsequent arrival from Burnley pushed him further down the pecking order, he was eventually shipped out on a season-long loan to Sunderland last September.
At that point, Yedlin was facing plenty of questions about his ability to make it at the Premier League level. While nobody had ever doubted his potential to influence a game going forward, the 23-year-old had incurred criticism for his lack of positional sense and poor defensive awareness dating back to his MLS days, with some even arguing that he may be forced to make a permanent move to midfield.
His deficiencies at the back meant the early stages of his international career were frequently spent playing on the wing, but the results were often mixed as he struggled with the tactical nuances of the position and found his attacking impact diminished without as much space to exploit down the flank.
With the Sounders, he had frequently lived on his speed to cover up any errors, but that approach clearly was not going to be as effective against Premier League opposition.
Since his spell at the Stadium of Light, though, concerns over Yedlin’s defence have significantly waned. The 39-times capped American initially found himself stuck behind Billy Jones in the right-back pecking order but, after some extensive work on the training ground, he managed to break into the line-up over the second half of the season to start Sunderland’s final 13 league games, helping them avoid relegation with a match to spare.
With Sam Allardyce’s tutelage, the former MLS starlet became a noticeably more disciplined and hard-nosed full-back, rarely getting caught out of position up the pitch or shirking his marking duties. He did still have the occasional hiccup, of course, but there was no denying the remarkable transformation in his game. In effect, he looked like an actual defender rather than simply an athlete thrust into the position.
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Nevertheless, despite going on to reproduce his Black Cats form during the USA’s run to the Copa America Centenario semi-finals this summer, Yedlin found upon returning to Spurs for preseason training that there was still no place for him in Pochettino’s plans. The highly-rated youngster had seemingly done all he needed to prove he was capable of holding his own in the English top-flight, yet the fact he failed to even secure a spot on the bench for the club’s opening two league fixtures suggested that there would be little chance for him to further his development in north London.
Sunderland were reportedly interested in signing him permanently earlier in the summer, but with Allardyce’s ascension to the England job and reservations over his £5 million price tag [The Chronicle], talks over a potential move back to Stadium of Light never really got off the ground.
He did not have to look far from Wearside for his new club, though, even if it did mean dropping down to the Championship for at least one season. North East rivals Newcastle suddenly emerged as a potential destination earlier this week, and soon Yedlin had travelled up to St. James’ Park to hold successful talks with Benitez and put pen to paper on a five-year contract.
The £5 million man now faces the challenge of winning over another new set of supporters going forward, but the rapid progress he has already shown during his young career offers good reason to be excited about his future. He may not be the finished article yet, but with his tantalising physical gifts and plenty of potential still left to fulfil, that transfer fee could eventually look like a real bargain.