Gio Reyna: The Best 17-Year-Old in the World?
On Wednesday, PSG beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 (3-2 on aggregate) to advance to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Amongst the stars on the field, Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Jadon Sancho, Erling Braut Haaland was 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna.
Reyna has been the only 17-year-old to play in the knockout rounds beside FC Barcelona's Ansu Fati. So who is 'Gio' Reyna and what makes him special as a player?
We spoke with his ex-youth coach Rodrigo Marion (current U-17s coach for New York City FC/former NYCFC academy director) who has known him since Reyna was 11-years-old and Stefan Buzcko, who hosts the Yellow Wall podcast.
Thrives Under Pressure
According to Marion, Reyna needs to be constantly challenged. "He's a type of player that likes to perform under pressure. Like when he's in a comfortable situation, he goes into a cruise, like he doesn't push himself."
"But when he's in a situation that is not very comfortable, where he needs to help the team, or things are not going his way is where he you see the best out of Gio."
To combat this, Marion felt the need to always play Reyna in teams with much older players. He played regularly with players who were two or three years older than him because it was the only way to challenge him. Even then he was the best on the field.
He also performed his best in big games. Says Marion, "In tournaments and key games, he would always be the one that changes the game. So I remember games, international games that we had in GA Cup, for instance, we played teams from Mexico, and the games would be tied and we needed a win, and it is five minutes left and that is when you start seeing Gio transforming into this competitive player that changes the game."
I asked Marion if he was surprised by Reyna's performance in the first leg against PSG when Reyna assisted Haaland for the winning goal. "No, I would be one of the few coaches or people that probably would expect that Gio at that moment, even though it's the Champions League game, PSG- like, it doesn't matter, I knew that that it would come off. Because that's his way of playing, that's his way of being.
This is why Reyna moved from NYCFC academy to Dortmund in the summer of 2019. The competition that MLS academies could offer wasn't sufficient and he would stagnant.
How Does Reyna Compare to Other Players?
So how does Reyna's game on the field compare to his contemporaries? Stefan Buzcko has watched Borussia Dortmund games for years and has watched some of the best players come through their system.
"I would say he's maybe one of the most complete youngsters that I've seen, especially at that young age. I've seen Nuri Sahin play at Dortmund, he made his debut when he was 16 years old, as I've obviously seen Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic come of age, and you can see that Reyna is very mature, first of all physically, but also in terms of his footballing IQ."
"I've already discussed this with my colleague on the Yellow Wall pod and we all assume that his ceiling is higher than Christian Pulisic's, just because of his footballing IQ.
"Pulisic has this amazing and incredible burst of speed in the first five yards and I don't think Reyna will be able to replicate that, but he is much more strategic on the field. He already has better awareness for for teammates and I think that will go a long way."
"The biggest difference between Reyna and the talents that have mentioned before and what is actually really crucial is that Reyna has that mentality that he also defends quite well already. Jadon Sancho is still trying to learn that. Reyna's already at a level where he presses very well, he knows how to run at opponents and what angle which foot to use to block a pass, how to put your opponent in cover shadows, all these little tactical ploys that are very important."
In the final third Reyna is also quite adept at either setting up teammates or taking the chances himself. "And if you want to compare him to Christian Pulisic, Gio's finishing ability ranks a little bit higher actually." In 15 youth games before being called up to the senior team following the winter break, Reyna scored 8 goals and notched 8 assists in 15 games according to Transfermarkt.
Patrick Vieira, who managed NYCFC when Reyna was in the academy, compared Reyna to French legend, David Trezeguet. Marion sees the comparison and doesn't like comparing players himself but suggests there are also similarities with Zidane.
"He can shoot from any range, his crossing abilities is phenomenal. He uses the left foot equally well and he's very good at linking up with players. So with all that said, if we compare him with other players, I would say it's a mix of many talented players, right? Like, sometimes he reminds me the way he moves his legs, like Zidane. But Zidane is more like a 10 but the way that he confronts players and the way that he manipulates his left and right foot with the ball, it reminds me sometimes to him [Zidane] or Trezeguet."
How Did He Develop Into This?
It is widely known that Reyna is the son of two American national team players. His father, Claudio, made more than 100 appearances for the USMNT and his mother, Danielle, was a tremendous athlete as well.
"I think they influenced Gio in all aspects, not just on the field but off the field. Every game, any training, and not so much on telling him what to do or what not to do on the field, but more on the mental side, like supporting him when things were not going well. And also when things are going well, keeping him more grounded. That alone took Gio into a better player.
"The same thing with the diet at home, the sleep, the rest, educating him on those aspects that ultimately help the development of players."
Reyna was also aided by his love of playing other sports. According to an article in Sports Illustrated, Reyna could dunk a basketball by 8th grade.
"When he was younger, he was playing multiple sports. He was a great basketball player in the winter period. We felt like that would also help his development, his coordination and his balance, his ability on moving away from pressure and also the jumping you know, the the acceleration, deceleration. I feel like this is also genetic, right? It has a lot to do with the mom and then she was known to be a super fast on the field."