Claudio Reyna America’s richest and most successful export United States coach Bruce Arena has a word for the critics of Claudio Reyna. He calls them idiots.
To address the detractors more diplomatically, they’ve placed unreasonable expectations on America’s most talented player. Reyna was anointed US soccer’s saviour more than a decade ago, when as a teenager he displayed skills previously unseen in an American player.
Pencilled in by coach Bora Milutinovic to start for the national team in the 1994 World Cup, 20-year-old Reyna was sidelined with a hamstring injury. He then joined Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen before moving to Wolfsburg, becoming captain at 24.
Before the 1998 World Cup, US coach Steve Sampson stressed: “Claudio is the man. He must get the ball. If you don’t like it, you can find a different team.” The game plan wasn’t lost on Germany, who sent Jens Jeremies out to deliver some crunching tackles on Reyna. America’s other opponents took note and they went home with three defeats out of three.
Despite this, Reyna says he hasn’t felt the pressure of being labelled the ‘saviour’ of US soccer. “I never listened, never bothered with it,” he said. But America’s most successful – and wealthiest – soccer export continued to raise expectations. In 1998, with 64 Bundesliga appearances under his belt, Reyna moved to Rangers. He helped them to two League titles, a Scottish Cup and played 25 times in Europe before joining Sunderland for œ4.5million – a record for an American.
Although US fans figured Reyna would turn the national team into world-beaters, no one could take advantage of his accurate passes, and much of his midfield work was dedicated to defence. It took his absence – he missed half the 10 final-round qualifying games because of injury and suspension – to emphasise his worth to the team, whose three defeats came without him. When Reyna returned, he set up both goals in the 2-1 win over Jamaica that clinched their place at the World Cup. “Claudio’s the leader of this team, and we rally behind him,” says fellow midfielder Chris Armas.
Reyna insists: “We have enough quality players to create problems.” That would once have been a dubious claim, when only Reyna would bring purposeful creativity to the team. But he will line up in Korea next to the latest ‘saviour’, 19-year-old Landon Donovan. Finally, he’ll have a partner to share the burden. Mike Woitalla
Club Sunderland (Eng)
Country United States
Born July 20, 1973, in Livingston, New Jersey
Previous clubs Bayer Leverkusen (Ger), Wolfsburg (Ger), Rangers (Sco)
International debut January 1994, v Norway
International caps 84 (8 goals)
Honours Gold Cup 2002; Scottish League 1999, 2000; Scottish Cup 2000