The Sunderland-born ace set to star for Borussia Dortmund as German football returns

He is the son of one former Sunderland midfielder who won over 100 caps for his country and is named after a Rangers hero who achieved the same feat.

Saturday, 16th May 2020, 10:30 am
Updated Sunday, 17th May 2020, 5:02 pm
Sunderland-born Gio Reyna celebrates with his Dortmund teammates

He has already prompted glowing comparisons with the likes of Kaka and David Trezegeut and in February this year became the third-youngest player ever to appear in the knockout stages of the Champions League, setting up a winning goal against Paris Saint-Germain as he did so.

When the Bundesliga returns from its Covid-19 hiatus this weekend, Giovanni Reyna will be at the heart of its highest profile fixture as he resumes a career which was taking off at stratospheric levels before football was suspended in March.

Borussia Dortmund already have a lucrative new contract prepared for Reyna to sign when his 18th birthday comes around in November and it’s little wonder they are so keen to tie down one of the brightest young talents in world football.

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If you haven’t had the pleasure already, check out the footage of his exceptional technique and sublime strike against Wolfsburg in February when he became the youngest ever scorer in the history of the German Cup.

As the Dortmund coach Lucien Favre so succinctly puts it - “if you can’t see he has something special, you are blind.”

Reyna is more than just a chip off the old block, as his father Claudio is the first to recognise.

“He’s much more of an athlete that I was and much more of a goal scorer,” says the former Sunderland midfielder, whose close friendship with Dutch midfielder Giovanni van Bronckhorst would inspire his son’s name.

Like Reyna senior, who played for Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg before arriving at Sunderland, young Gio decided Germany was the best place to develop his career.

He left New York City FC last year, having worked there under the tutelage of former Arsenal star Patrick Vieira who likened his abilities to Kaka and Trezeguet.

If that kind of hype is any sort of burden, Reyna hasn’t appeared in the least weighed down by it so far.

His form for Dortmund’s youth team was so immediately and consistently impressive, he was promoted to the first team squad by Favre during the winter break. He made his senior debut in January and subsequently remained a regular in Favre’s first team set-up afterwards, including his contribution in the 2-1 win over PSG in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 tie when he assisted the decisive goal on the night for Norwegian striking sensation Erling Haaland.

The highly-rated pair have also struck up a close relationship off the pitch with 19-year-old Haaland currently acting as a chauffeur to training for Reyna while he waits to pass his driving licence.

As Dortmund attempt to close a four point gap on leaders Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga over the next few weeks, Reyna and Haaland are poised to play key roles.

With more experienced midfielders Emre Can and Axel Witsel ruled out through injury, Reyna is in contention to start Saturday afternoon’s Revierderby at home to Schalke 04. It is normally the hottest ticket in German football but this time the empty stands of Signal Iduna Park will echo to the shouts of players and coaches as football restarts behind closed doors.

“It’s going to be a high intensity game, even without fans,” Reyna told Borussia Dortmund’s YouTube channel this week as he anticipated his first experience of arguably the most bitter local rivalry in German football.

“I think I speak for the whole team when I say we are buzzing to get playing again. I’ve never even seen a derby live, so of course I’ve been really looking forward to this game. Schalke are a great team but if we play the way we can play, then we can win.”

Dad Claudio will be tuning in from the other side of the Atlantic along with mum Danielle, herself a former international footballer who made six appearances for the US women’s team.

They had planned a trip to Europe in March, when Gio had been lined up to make his senior debut for the USA - he has ruled out playing for England, despite being born in Durham when his dad was with Sunderland - in a friendly against the Netherlands.

The family pride in the teenage prodigy’s progress is tinged with poignancy as the tattoo on Gio’s right arm, bearing the legend ‘Love Jack’, testifies. It’s a tribute to his older brother who died of brain cancer at the age of just 13 in 2012.

It has given him a perspective on life which ensures he is not only ferociously dedicated to reaching the top in his sport, something which so many observers feel he is destined to achieve, but is also determined to ensure he does so with a positive demeanour whenever he is on the pitch.

“The most important thing for me is to always enjoy playing and have fun because that's how everybody started playing the game,” said Reyna.

“Always since you were four, five years old, just loving the game. Of course, hard work is needed, but I think just having fun and playing with a smile on your face is the best way to do it.”