Claudio Reyna was born in Livingston, New Jersey on the 20th July 1973. His destiny, quite obviously due to the fact that he was born in 1973, was to play for the greatest football club in history. Twenty-eight years, 4 months and 17 days later, Reyna breezed through the doors at the Stadium of Light to put the finishing touches to a £4.5 million deal to make him a Sunderland player and with it, the most expensive North American player ever.
Although an American by birth, Claudio’s dad is Argentinean, his mam Portuguese. Due to his parentage, he spent part of his youth in Argentina, no doubt homing his skills using cows’ backsides for target practice on a diet of corned beef. Well, it worked for Arca. Reyna returned back to his homeland later to attend the University of Virginia. Here, he aspired to a dream of becoming a professional footballer, and led Virginia to an unprecedented three consecutive titles between 1991 and 1993. He was given his break in 1994, when Europe called in the shape of German outfit, Bayer Leverkusen. However, Reyna failed to break into the first team in the land of the sausage and became frustrated at warming the bench every week. “I’d be a substitute one time or play a little bit,” he commented, “but you don’t have that same confidence that you do when you play every week and do well against good competition.
This week in week out first team football eventually came in the shape of newly promoted Wolfsburg, more famous for producing Volkswagen cars than for its football team. Fuelled by a newfound confidence afforded to him by first team football, Reyna admirably competed with Germany’s best, becoming Wolfsburg’s dead ball specialist in the process.
Recognized as a talent from the outset, Reyna was selected for the Olympic games in 1992 and for the USA World Cup squad in 1994 in his homeland, but did not play due to a hamstring injury. Despite his frustrating time at Bayer Leverkusen, Claudio still made the Copa America squad in 1995, and the Olympic squad in 1996 - a tournament held in the USA. By the time World Cup 1998 rolled round in not too distant France, Reyna was seen as the future of American football. The New York Times listed him as one of the most influential football players in 21st century America. Pretty impressive, even if the beautiful game isn’t as popular as rounders in the US.
In France, he played in every minute of USA’s involvement in the tournament, which was unsurprisingly brief. But in a land where woman’s football is arguably bigger than the men’s game, you could be forgiven for wondering who the bigger star is, Reyna, or his wife, who has also represented the USA national team.
Playing in central midfield in Germany, the future Captain America improved his defensive game to complement his abundant passing skills, attracting in the process the attention of Scottish ‘giants’ Rangers. Impressed by the influence Reyna had upon games in Germany Dick Advocaat spent £1.25 million to take Claudio to Scotland late in the 1998/99 campaign, with Rangers on the verge of completing the treble. Success straight upon his arrival, then, but little followed in a blue shirt due largely to the arrival of Martin O’Neill at Celtic. Reyna’s most glorious moment with the Glasgow club was his goal against Parma in a Champions League qualifier. Noted for his goal-scoring abilities and play-making skill in a central midfield role, Reyna opened his Rangers account early on and scored his fair share of goals due to his late runs into the box. However, injury hampered his early Rangers career, and upon his return to the first team, he was regularly played out of position at right back. Not that he was out of depth in John Kay territory, notably marking Bobby Petta out of the game in a 5-1 victory over Celtic in some little known Derby match somewhere north of Carlisle.
Despite sometimes finding himself in an unfamiliar role in his time at Rangers (obviously, the Peter Reid philosophy of square pegs in round holes is popular north of the border too), Claudio was named the US player of the Year for 2000, in a ceremony not too dissimilar to our own Football writer’s award. Of the accolade, Reyna said, “It’s a tremendous honour to be finally recognised, this is the highest recognition a player can receive in US professional soccer.” Fair enough, but, what we’d really have liked him to say was something along the lines of “whoa, far-out dude, this is a totally bodacious moment for any soccer guy, man, and I’m off to max it wi’ my homies.”
When playing for his home country, Reyna orchestrates US attacks, but despite his attacking flair and average height (measuring 5’10”) Reyna is also well known as a ball winner. Able to link midfield and attack and win his fair share of battles, Claudio, is, dare I say it, in the same mould as Don Hutchi$on. Not unlike the greedy one, Reyna was reported to have asked for £30,000 a week to stay in Glasgow, and if you believe the Scottish press, he might even be on something around that figure here.
Far from the mould of some Greedy Geordie Scottish (eh?) twat, Reyna, unsurprisingly for a man who has represented his country close to 100 times, is very patriotic. Ironically in Livingston, a place that shares the name of Reyna’s birthplace, he revealed a New York Fire Department t-shirt upon scoring a brace against the current Scottish high fliers. This proved to be one of his last games in a Rangers shirt, as his desire to play in the Premiership became too great, Reyna later saying that the Premiership is the greatest league in the world.
After the now customary eternity to sign him, Claudio was able to prove that a cheque book did exist at the SoL and that Peter Reid is capable of using it, finally quashing rumours that we are only allowed to buy obscure foreigners and people under the age of four.
Reyna, despite being only 28, has a massive amount of experience under his belt, encompassing a World Cup and countless other International tournaments. No doubt his experiences playing in three different countries will serve him well in his time in the Premiership. However, not for the first time in his career, Reyna’s start to his Sunderland career was hampered by ‘injury,’ and he was unable to play against Chelsea. Nevertheless, his decision to miss a jaunt to LA and the American Player of the Year Awards in favour of Sunderland’s inaugural trip to St. Mary’s, Southampton, ensured that in the fans mind at least, Claudio got off on the right foot.
If there is one question mark about the signing of Reyna, it is his record with injury. Assuming he shake his mystery niggle off, though, Claudio is a welcome addition to a Sunderland squad depleted by the losses of Hutchison, Rae and, er, Lumsdon, and will hopefully fill the creative midfield void. Reyna is highly regarded back in his homeland, and will lead his country out in Japan and South Korea in the summer. After playing in next year’s World Cup, Reyna has said he will only play in ‘meaningful’ internationals, no doubt helping Sunderland and his chances of staying fit. Either way, let’s hope that the most expensive American in football can kick start our faltering Premiership campaign.
Stats: Rangers 2001/02
Shots on target 5
Shots off target 12
Blocked shots 6
Goal assists 5
Total passes 922
Pass completion 84%
Total crosses 74
Cross completion 38%
Dribbles & runs 46
Dribble completion 78%
Tackles made 45 (76%)
Yellow cards 2
Red cards 0