In the end, something had to give. For Giovanni Reyna and Borussia Dortmund the dream was fast fading into, if not a nightmare, then a sort of sleep paralysis.
It had become clear the German club’s belief in Reyna’s ability to turn potential into consistency was fading and, by Christmas, the midfielder had given up believing too. The memories of that early promise were supplanted by dugout inactivity.
After starting just one Bundesliga game all season, and appearing in the league for a combined 271 minutes, the USMNT international changed representation from American giants Wasserman to Gestifute, the agency of Jorge Mendes at the end of December. It was a move to hasten his departure from Dortmund, and quickly find a new club with better playing-time prospects courtesy of the Portuguese super-agent often regarded as among the most influential in the game.
A meeting was held between the player, his U.S. soccer legend father Claudio, Gestifute and Dortmund’s sporting director Sebastian Kehl just before the new year. Reyna’s unhappiness at his limited minutes was made clear, and so was Dortmund’s position that they would not stand in his way, according to sources close to the club who are aware of the situation and, like all those consulted for this piece, were granted anonymity to protect relationships.
That process has ended in him signing for Nottingham Forest, a team 16th in England’s Premier League and where another Mendes client Nuno Espirito Santo became manager before Christmas. Reyna moves to the City Ground on loan until the end of the season — he will wear No 20 — having signed a contract extension through to June 2026 at Dortmund.
Reyna’s previous contract was due to expire in 2025. The Bundesliga club had long been pondering the quandary of whether to sell this summer or offer him a new deal in the hope he might shine consistently and eventually become a saleable asset akin to his friend Jude Bellingham, now setting records at Real Madrid after a move from Dortmund last summer. Given Reyna cost them very little when he joined, any sale would have meant a significant profit for Dortmund.
The American’s appetite to play has expedited matters.
Initially Dortmund were believed to want €20million (£17m, $21.7m) for the 21-year-old, or at least a loan with an obligation to purchase him for a similar fee in the summer. A permanent offer that both the club and player wanted did not materialise, so instead he exits for four months which allows Kehl either a second chance to get the right money for the midfielder in the summer with the protection of that extra year on his contract — or for the prospect of the enhanced returnee breaking into the Dortmund team.
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Reyna was a rising star at Dortmund at the same time as Bellingham and Jadon Sancho. People were talking about the American as a talent in line with his compatriot and former Dortmund star Christian Pulisic.
There were enticing moments. He was part of the Dortmund side that won the 2020-21 DFB-Pokal, became the youngest player to make 50 Bundesliga appearances and, in a 3-0 win against Copenhagen in September, became the first American to record two assists in a Champions League game.
But injuries stunted his progress and the pandemic had an impact too, at times leaving him feeling isolated and far from home.
Crucially, though, Reyna has been unable to convince Dortmund coach Edin Terzic he should regularly play in central midfield, either as a No. 8 or No. 10.
“If it was my ideal scenario or game it would be with two No. 6s and I’d be kind of a free-roaming No. 10,” Reyna once said on a podcast with fellow USMNT teammates Tim Ream and Joe Scally, in speaking about his role on the national team. “I think that’s kind of where I find space and like to create and score goals and get assists. That’s where I can be successful.”
In Dortmund, Terzic has preferred the experience, reliability and consistency of players such as Julian Brandt and Marco Reus in those positions, while even younger players like Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, 19, have jumped ahead of Reyna in terms of playing time.
Substitute appearances have tended to be on the right or left of midfield, and although there have continued to be moments when his ability has shone, there have not been enough of them.
His Dortmund departure does not follow a dramatic rift. Reyna’s attitude has been good and he is popular in the dressing room.
For his part Terzic has spoken positively about the player, most recently after he came from the bench top play in the final 24 minutes of their 3-1 win over VfL Bochum on Sunday.
“Gio is a fantastic player. Of course he’s not happy when he’s not playing,” he said. “You could see that Gio is capable of influencing the game from the bench. He was very confident on the ball, managed to create a few dangerous situations, but was a bit unlucky with his finishing in one or two situations.”
At that stage the Dortmund manager also insisted he was not preparing to lose the midfielder before the German transfer deadline on Thursday. “I expect him to be available to me on Friday,” he added. “I haven’t heard anything else. Gio is under contract, Gio is our player and did well when he came on today.”
However, the urgency with which agents presented him with new clubs suggested Reyna did not share his manager’s faith.
There were varied options. Seven-time UEFA Cup/Europa League winners Sevilla were interested but were unable to fund a deal. Marseille, seventh in France’s Ligue 1, also held talks with Dortmund. Other clubs had long held interest in the midfielder but he had previously shown no inclination to leave Dortmund.
The switch of representation to Mendes brought the option of England and the Premier League, something which appealed to Reyna not least because he did not need to take a cut to his €3.5m per year salary (£3m; $3.8m).
The move will not be without its challenges. Some close to the player have previously felt a move to the Premier League would be best at a bigger club, one expecting more possession in games — Forest has the fourth-lowest average possession rate in the English top flight this season with 39.4 per cent.
The physical element of a relegation battle in England will pose a test for Reyna, but he is capable of passing it. He has won 56.1 per cent of his duels in the Bundesliga this season (46 per cent last season and 42 per cent in 2021-22, per FotMob).
Among 58 players from the N0. 10 and No. 8 positions to have logged at least 500 minutes in the English top flight this year, the average duel success rate is 49.7 per cent.
Keep in mind that Reyna has nearly half as many minutes as the cut-off for this sample. But if he can sustain his current rate for Forest in the second half of the campaign, he would rank as one of the division’s better duellists.
He certainly does not shirk defensive work. Albeit again on a limited sample size of minutes, he leads the Bundesliga charts for winning the ball back in the final third per 90 minutes.
Then there is the question of whether Reyna will get the chance to play in his favored position at the City Ground.
Forest have a reasonably fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, where the trio behind the striker move around. It is likely Morgan Gibbs-White will still start as the No. 10, but Nuno likes the two wider forwards to regularly interchange and they are not expected to remain out wide all game like conventional wingers.
Nuno sometimes lines his side up in a 4-3-3 formation too, which could offer Reyna chances to play as a No. 8.
Unlike at Dortmund, where his path into regular first-team action has been blocked by other top talents, there is a lack of strength in depth at Forest, with Callum Hudson-Odoi’s form fluctuating, and Anthony Elanga talented but liable to picking up injuries. Beyond Gibbs-White there are no other options as the No. 10, which would offer Reyna a chance.
It is down to the gifted American to prove that when the chance comes, he can finally take it.
(Top photo: Leon Kuegeler/Getty Images)