DeAndre Yedlin interview: Newcastle United's changed man

June 20, 2020

For DeAndre Yedlin, deactivating Instagram was another necessary step on a journey to refocus his mind.

“I was wasting so much time scrolling aimlessly,” he tells Sky Sports. “Not even with things that would help me or be productive. It got to a point where I just made a decision.”

When Newcastle play Sheffield United on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, it will be their first competitive match at St James’ Park since February 29. But for Yedlin it has been even longer.

The full-back started 28 Premier League matches under Rafa Benitez last season but just eight so far in the 2019-20 campaign. Javier Manquillo was Steve Bruce’s preferred choice at right-back before football was suspended due to the coronavirus.

“Rafa brought me in, so it can be different when a manager brings you in, he knows what qualities you have rather than coming in while you’re already there,” says Yedlin. But he makes no excuses.

“Mentally I haven’t been as focused as I needed to be. That played a big part and it all boils down to me - I’m to blame for that. As a manager you’re going to put out the player you think is going to best help you win the game.

“Every manager has different opinions and all you can do as a player is try to fight and get your spot back, or at least earn your manager’s trust back to try and get your spot back. There’s no use sulking about it, you just get on with it and try to raise your game to get back to the level you need to be when you were starting.”

It’s not the first time Yedlin has found himself out of the team. He signed for Tottenham in 2014 as a 21-year-old after an impressive World Cup with the USA, but struggled to get a look-in with Kyle Walker in front of him. The Seattle-born defender was a long way from home and admits he felt a bit depressed.

But as he approaches his 27th birthday next month, Yedlin has learned to recognise when changes need to be made.

As well as ditching social media, bar a brief return to Twitter following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in which he wrote a powerful thread, Yedlin has turned his attention to meditation, drawing, reading - things he feels “will be productive to my life rather than just seeing aimless stuff on Instagram or Twitter that have no real use to me”.

Among the books he has read in lockdown is Shoe Dog, a memoir by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, which Yedlin says has been “very inspiring” as he is in the process of starting a clothing line. He is currently reading a book about the Black Panthers which he describes as “eye opening”.

“I didn’t know a tonne about them and the things they did for the community,” he says. “It’s been nice to educate myself on that.”

In November, Yedlin made the decision to go vegan after watching the Netflix documentary The Game Changers and says he has felt “great” since. “I’ve noticed a lot of changes in my body fat, my movement is smoother and my recovery from injuries is a lot better,” he says.

He is trying to meditate every day and has even encouraged his grandparents back in the US to give it a go. “Sometimes my grandfather has some anxiety and he says it’s completely calmed him down, he’s really enjoying it,” says Yedlin. “It’s one of the things that if I had a kid I would tell them to do 100 per cent. It’s one of the best things I’ve started - not just for football but for life, being completely self-aware and in-tune with your body.”

It has helped Yedlin keep a balanced mind as he considers his international future with the US national team due to the treatment of black people. "It's one of those waiting games to see if a change does happen,” he says. “But if things go as they stand it's hard for me as an African-American male to represent a country that does things like this where all people aren't equal."

Yedlin hopes having ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back of his and his Premier League colleagues’ shirts will go a long way to the education of young people. “If kids start seeing it on the back of players’ jerseys they start raising questions,” he says.

For Yedlin, “refreshed and ready”, the Premier League’s return brings an opportunity to use his refocused mind to win back a regular starting place. It’s a challenge he welcomes as his education off the pitch will not stop.

“A lot of people ask me what has been the biggest change with me being in England and a lot of people expect me to say something related to football, but mostly it’s just growing up and becoming a man,” he says.

“When you face any adversity in life those are the kind of lessons you can take and remember. Those are the things that are going to help me not just in football but in life, which is priceless.”

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