US-Boy Gio Reyna talks about his breakthrough as a soccer player at Borussia Dortmund

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Borussia Dortmunds promising prospect Gio Reyna (USA, 17) is working in his major breakthrough in European soccer. Here he talks about his first weeks as a pro.

Dortmund

, 26.03.2020, 01:00 Uhr / Lesedauer: 9 min

Gio, have you ever heard the German word „Wunderkind“?

No, I have never heard it before. But I think I know what it means.


Do you think you are a „Wunderkind“?

It’s not really my task to talk about that, I guess. Of course, I am doing well right now. I’d just like to keep going.

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You’ve had your debut in Bundesliga with 17 years, 2 months and five days. The youngest US American ever. Pretty early!

It’s cool to break records like that. When you are ready, you are ready. I felt I was. The coach believes in me, and I’m grateful for that and happy to play with the team.


Please describe the moment of your first substitution here in Dortmund. You on the sideline …

The first home game was special. Even a bit scary, sort of intimidating. The first time you look across the pitch and see the yellow wall - you feel a little bit of pressure and intense. It was good to have the first run out. Now it’s all fine. I get used to it, now it pushes me.


In what terms?

The game against Paris Saint-Germain (2:1 win in the Champions League) was a good example. We needed the fans a lot, they pushed us. The atmosphere was special. I had not seen it like that, it was a crazy night.


After that match you were looking for words and struggled to describe what had happend. And weeks later?

It’s still like that. I was on the pitch with players like Kylian Mbappé and Neymar. All these guys I used to watch in the world cup or in the Champions League for the last years. To get in, create an assist and help the team to win, that was awesome. It was one of those moments where you say you can’t put it into words. It’s really cliché.


There are some special players in your own team, like Mario Götze, Mats Hummels or Marco Reus. Do you get used to sit next to these guys in the locker room?

In every day business, I get used to it. But when I take a step back, at home when I think about it, it’s wow! These guys are really in my team. World cup winners! I take all the bits and pieces that I can get from all of them. Also from the young guys, like Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho. Jadon helps me a lot because he knows best how it is like to come here as a 17 year old kid and be successful amongst the big guys.


What pieces of advice does he give you?

Things like that I am here for a reason. And that there are going to come up‘s and down’s because I am still young. To focus on what I can do and not care what other people think or say. Just to play, because that’s what you know to do and what you’re the best at. When you look at Jadon and see how successful he is, he is a role model.


Jadon said you might become the next best player in the squad. Is he crazy?

I would not say he is crazy! I gathered some minutes as a sub and hope to start soon and get more games this season, and then the next season. I want to score more goals, give more assists, help the team.


When we talked in January during the preparation camp, you hoped for some minutes if possible. Since then, you played in every single game. How do you explain this huge step?

I am a pretty confident kid. Once I got in, I knew I was ready and I was able to do well. It happened quicker than expected, but it is really fun. There are so many great experiences; I am really happy right now.


Have you sometimes been afraid of waking up in this dream?

No, I would not put it like that. This looks like a dream right now. Like you said, with all these great players, in front of our home crowd, for a club like Borussia Dortmund with all its tradition, which I watched since being a kid: this dream has come true. Now I want to achieve more.


You watched Dortmund games when you were a boy?

Yes! The generation of Reus, Götze, Lewandowski, in 2012 and 2013. I was ten or eleven years old. That was fun to watch. Their speed was amazing! Klopp was the coach. Now I am playing here myself, still sounds crazy.


When you were asked ‚Why Dortmund?‘, you answered ‚Why not?‘

Here I find everything that I wanted. It is a huge club, with a long tradition of giving chances to young guys. When they came to me and showed me how interested they were, this was the one great opportunity. For me, BVB is a perfect choice!


When did you first hear about the interest?

I can’t exactly remember when it was. My agent and my dad came to me. I had no idea, I was still a kid playing. They told me that several clubs were interested and sat down with me. Then I realized, I could make the next step forward. I can try and become a pro, hopefully. Dortmund made a great offer with the whole plan they provided.


How long did it take you do decide? To go overseas with only 16 years, all alone.

I’ve always been a pretty independent kid and managed a lot on my own. Once this opportunity came, I knew for my goals, for my career, for my dream of becoming a professional soccer player, I was willing to sacrifice and leave my home. That was okay for me.


What do you miss most?

I see my parents once a month, more or less. My siblings go to school, I do miss them, and some of my friends. But we use Facetime and Snapchat to keep in contact.


Do all your friends in the US have an idea what you are experiencing here right now?

I have a small circle, with some friends from home, from school and from New York City football club. They are really interested and involved and watch every game if they can. They are true friends and know what’s happening to me, even if they themselves play Lacrosse or American Football or Basketball. I want to invite them to come over here and show them how crazy it is in the stadium with 80.000 people watching. I am sure they cannot imagine what that feels like!


Was that atmosphere what your dad told you about Germany?

Yes, he did. And my mum also. She always wanted to visit the Dortmund games when my dad played here in away games with Wolfsburg or Leverkusen. They both spoke about the craziest fans and the spectacular atmosphere, and how steep the stands are in the stadium.


Soccer is not a big sport in the US. Were you infected by your parents? Was ist destiny?

Yes, soccer was always in my blood. My grandfather and great-grandfather also played in Argentina. Soccer is part of our family history; it would have been weird if I did not play. I was always into soccer, my parents never forced me. They never had to, because I loved it.


Did you ever repent not to continue with Basketball?

No! I was quite decent, but I always had more talent in Soccer.


You grew up into a Soccer world. You had your parents as role models, and at the New York City Football Club worked the likes of Patrick Vieira, David Villa. You always had a quick link to professional football. Did that make a difference?

I had so many great people to look up to. When I trained with the first team for the very first time, I was only 14 years old. Every other week I was learning so much from David Villa in the training sessions. And Andrea Pirlo or Frank Lampard, who had extraordinary careers. But I learnt most from David. He is more attacking than the other guys, more similar to my position. I studied his movements, his positioning, his finishing techniques. I was amazed and learnt so much from him. And Patrick Vieira gave me the first real glimpse of what it takes to be a professional.


How?

He introduced me to the professional side of the sport and is also one of the guys i learned the most from. He is close friend of my father, he was very present, though now I don’t see him that often anymore.


Even your name is dedicated to a pro footballer!

Yes, Giovanni van Bronckhorst. He came to visit the Frankfurt game (4:0 in February), I am friends with one of his sons. The family stays in the Netherlands, not far away.


Does anyone call you Giovanni?

My grandma and my mum when they are mad at me. When they shout „Giovanni“, usually something not so good has happened. Maybe the school called, or I had fights with my little brother or so.


And the second first name, Alejandro?

I only heard it a very few times. When I heard Alejandro between the first name and the surname, I really was in trouble. No one really ever calls me by this name. But wait: When we played Werder Bremen, for whatever reason my full name appeared on the squad list. At any other game it was only Giovanni Reyna, but then it said Giovanni Alejandro. Mats (Hummels) and a few other guys were making fun of it and called me Alejandro. But besides that, nobody calls me Alejandro.


You are a professional Soccer player by now, but also still a teenager. What’s the biggest difference between the US an Germany?

Just the culture. When I came here, I had to learn how things work here, what people like to do, their hobbies and activities. The culture is very different. But people are very kind here once you get to know them. That’s a bit different to the US, where people are more open and welcoming right away. The food is pretty similar, we both have a bit of everything. Germany is a cool country, I like it. It feels very relaxed compared to New York and the northeast part of the US. There are not too many distractions here, I can just focus on playing, and that’s it.


You have a nice communal in the club‘s youth academy with some other hopeful guys like Immanuel Pherai, Ansgar Knauff and Youssoufa Moukoko.

It’s great to stay with these guys. But I am going to move out in a few weeks, to have my own place. I am excited to have my own flat.


Then you are only missing a driver’s license?

I just started learning. I still can’t drive till I turn 18, which is in November. They said I can get my license in a few weeks.


We use gears in most cars, did you know?

Is it? They said, the can help me with everything (laughs)! If I get one-on-one-sessions, that should be no problem.


The younger kids in the club’s academy must look up to you. What do you tell them?

Most of them do not realize what it means to be a pro, which is good for them. I enjoyed myself when I was younger, I could eat whatever I want, listen to music, stay up late, do all this normal stuff and not worry about the other aspects. I just try to act mature and be a role model for them, too.


That also means your favourite dish, french fries, is not allowed anymore?

No! (laughs) I haven’t eaten french fries since the winter break, where I had them once or twice. Now it’s not possible. I guess, once the season is done, I’ll have french fries the very next day! Something to look forward to!


Who is best at playing Fifa?

Definitely not me, the guys always beat me at that game. I am better at NBA 2K, which I prefer.


Did you learn German from your dad?

No, but he is still fluent. Once he comes to visit, he can speak and knows everything. But he never spoke German to me. Sometimes a bit Spanish. I only knew the bad German words before I came here (laughs). Like „Scheiße“ and some others I can’t say here.


How often did you talk to your fellow American Christian Pulisic before you came here?

We don’t know each other so well in person. But he is a great guy, he helped me when I came here and every now and then we write each other.


You received that call from US national trainer Gregg Berhalter.

Yes! My dad and my agent told me that there might be a good chance that I get called. That was very exciting.


There were some rumours: You could play for England, where you were born, or for Portugal or Argentina, where your ancestors come from?

I know there have been some speculations. But I won’t play for any other country but USA. USA is the only country that I play for, I made my final decision on that. I hope I can make my debut soon.


How big do you consider the chances to become German champion?

In the Bundesliga, of course we have a chance. It is a very tight race. Four or even five teams can be on top at the end. We just have to take one game after each other.


Does it help you to play alongside other teenagers like Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho?

Yes, it is pretty cool. In some moments our front row was 19, 19 and 17 years. I don’t think you see that very often or even ever before in the Champions League. They all seem older then they are, but then you realize they are only 19 and have done so much. When I reflect, I tell myself I want to be on their level in two years.


How important is Borussia Dortmunds „development coach“ Otto Addo?

I get more of the player’s perspective from guys like Jadon Sancho. The game has changed since Otto played, 20 years ago. We analyze film after every match and training, he gives me so tipps. But now he is kind of opening his arms and tells me to go and play. He was very important when I came here, but now he has lead me into the pro squad. It’s different with Jadon, because he was in my shoes and knows exactly how I feel. He has been the most influential person for me in the first team.


Are you an impatient type of person?

Impatient I would not say. Of course, sometimes I wish I had played more minutes. But after the matches, when I look back, I can ask myself, how many 17 year olds can play in the first team in any professional sports league? And I can even play in one of the best teams at all. I must stay grateful and keep confident and trust in me now. There are a lot of games to come. I must stay patient and hopefully have my breakthrough with 18 or 19 years.

Giovanni Alejandro Reyna (*11/03/2002) has joined Borussia Dortmund im July 2019, coming from New York City Football Club. Six months later, the under 19 player was promoted to the professional team and made his first minutes in Bundesliga, Champions League und the German Cup, where he has become the youngest striker in history. Reynas parents, Claudio and Daninelle, also played football, both also played for the US national team.
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