Claudio Reyna interview: ‘You belong to the city’ – Five boroughs of opportunity for ex-U.S. captain
Former USA captain and Manchester City midfielder Claudio Reyna was named Sporting Director of soon-to-be Major League Soccer debutants New York City FC last May, and whether it is music, sport or life in general, his devotion to NYC is beyond dispute.
Prior to hanging up his boots just before he turned 35 in July 2008, the ex-Glasgow Rangers star racked up a magnificent 112 caps for the US National Team, scoring eight goals. His debut for his country came in January 1994 in a friendly with Norway and before international retirement after the 2006 World Cup he had ensured he will rank as one of the all-time great American players.
Football enthusiasts in England are mainly aware of Claudio for the time he spent with Sunderland and Manchester City over six seasons from 2001 to 2007. When the MLS expansion team New York City FC was announced on May 21st 2013, it took only a day for him to effectively become the club’s first employee.
Departing his role as US Soccer’s Youth Technical Director, Claudio became NYCFC’s Sporting Director. Recruiting players and staff is an integral aspect of the position but a huge reason why he was chosen is the understanding he has of New York and how the game can prosper there.
Claudio is a proud native of the East Coast having been raised in New Jersey and for himself and his family New York is now home. Although there are a couple of notable exceptions and a third who would become synonymous with the West Coast, the artists Claudio pays homage to when discussing his music love all have origins in New York.
“Growing up in a generation where hip-hop and rap was huge, that was the main genre I followed and besides Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest were favourites of mine. I was a big fan of Bob Marley who’s such an iconic person and musician.
“I was also a fan of LL Cool J growing up, as well as Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G, and also Pearl Jam back in the day. When I was younger, music was huge for me and I always listened to it.
“Going to college here in the US, that was when my music expanded and I got to hear all different genres. Music is still part of my life but since having kids they tend to control the radio dial so I hear a lot more pop music!”
In a segment he recorded for FIFA Futbol Mundial in 2012, Claudio named Jay-Z and wife Beyonce as the artists he would most like to meet. Early on in our conversation, I asked if he had got the opportunity to cross paths with the former since the aforementioned FIFA interview went out.
“I did actually. I got a chance a couple years ago when he was having a charity benefit for his Shawn Carter Foundation at Carnegie Hall.
“He was there for two nights performing and on the second night prior to his show I got to meet him. I’m not someone who gets starstruck often but on that occasion I was a little lost for words.”
One of today’s true icons in hip-hop and popular culture, Jay-Z’s fame and appeal has grown to a colossal extent in the past 18 years (since his much-revered debut album ‘Reasonable Doubt’). In July last year, the Brooklyn-born superstar began the ‘Legends of the Summer’ tour with Justin Timberlake.
The largest crowds of the 15 dates came over two shows at a world-famous venue which will be the home of New York City FC when they start life in MLS in March 2015. Claudio was one of the 89,023 in attendance for one of the sell-out gigs.
“There are a couple concerts I’ve been to in the last year. One was Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake at Yankee Stadium and the other was Pink.
“I’m a huge fan of hers and it was one of the most amazing shows I’ve seen.”
Former Bayer Leverkusen player Claudio’s parents are Argentinian (father Miguel) and Portuguese-American (mother Maria) respectively. Surrounded by various cultures, he was a lover of hip-hop but the first record he and his sibling bought was one from The King of Pop.
“The first that I bought was together with my brother and it was ‘Off the Wall’ by Michael Jackson. It was a big old album on 12-inch and I’ll never forget playing it on the old stereo.
“The first I bought myself was an Eric B. & Rakim tape; around the same time I bought my first LL Cool J tape.”
After three NCAA titles in a row (1991-93) as a standout player at the University of Virginia, Claudio’s stock continued to rise and he was included in the 1994 World Cup on home soil. He didn’t get to feature in that tournament, although his time on the biggest stage would come, but one of his friends to this day scored a decisive goal in the 2-1 group-game win over Colombia.
There were just under 94,000 in attendance at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena that day and the player in question, now Technical Director at AZ Alkmaar, is the one Claudio recalls as a memorable teammate for pre-game music in his career.
“I wasn’t the DJ but if I didn’t like something I would let them know! One comes to mind though and it’s Earnie Stewart.
“I roomed with him, he’s a close friend and he was the DJ. He could have had a second career in music.
“He can dance, he’s got rhythm and he used to have some Craig David songs he would sing. He could have been a back-up singer for him.”
Earnie Stewart won 101 caps for the US (scoring 17) and the Dutch-born midfielder notably represented Willem II and NAC Breda in the Eredivisie. He gets the seal of approval from Claudio for music but another national team colleague of yesteryear, and one who is very familiar with fans in England, certainly does not!
“This is a very easy one – Kasey Keller. It was awful; I don’t know what you’d call it.
“Death music where it’s basically someone vomiting down the microphone! Hands down, he had the oddest music taste I’ve come across.”
Former goalkeeper Keller made over a century of appearances for the States and turned out for Millwall, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Fulham in his career. Claudio was named in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads with the ex-Seattle Sounders man and enjoyed numerous prestigious sporting moments in his company.
That said, Claudio would choose a different kind of style to Keller’s if he was to record a cover version of a track with any of his career teammates. Besides a man he has already praised for his vocal ability, he picks out a former Bayer Leverkusen and Columbus Crew defender/midfielder, with classic Caribbean vibes in mind for the song.
“It’s a tough one but I’d probably have Earnie (Stewart) singing and I’d be in the background, or I’d go with Frankie Hejduk. Frankie is a big Bob Marley fan so we would do ‘Stir It Up’ or ‘Get Up, Stand Up’.”
Claudio had nearly two years on loan with Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg before his 1999 switch to Rangers and one of his finest achievements came in 2002. He had already helped Sunderland stay in the Premier League, scoring both goals in a crucial 2-1 victory over Leicester along the way, and that summer he got to the World Cup quarter-final.
The US were beaten only by Michael Ballack’s goal for Germany and Claudio had the honour of making the tournament’s All-Star Team. Included in the selection were Brazilian idols Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.
In all, Claudio played at three World Cups and he showed some of that quality recently at the NY Fest celebrity tournament at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The event supported the work of the Claudio Reyna Foundation which has been helping to benefit the prospects of youngsters in inner cities for some time now.
A significant proportion of the foundation focuses upon promoting active lifestyles and it is also an objective to help educate the kids by offering tutoring and partnering with schools. Claudio explains what has given him the most satisfaction since the organisation began.
“Just improving people’s lives. We started it to give the youth of New York City a better chance through soccer and to grow the sport in the US.
“We began seven years ago and we’ve partnered with many foundations since. I’m really happy though that we started this before other organisations and it gives me the most pride that we were in this space before and went on to inspire others.”
Winning the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Cup with Rangers in 2000, Claudio played alongside 2010 World Cup final captain for the Netherlands, Giovanni van Bronckhorst. His friendship with the ex-Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder / full-back is such that Claudio named his son Giovanni.
After his time on Wearside with Sunderland, he played 87 games for Manchester City before seeing out his career with New York Red Bulls in the 2007 and 2008 MLS seasons. In December 2013, Claudio was named in the All-Time Men’s National Team Best XI and his wife Danielle (formerly Danielle Egan) was once a midfielder for the women’s team.
The Best XI was voted for by the likes of players, coaches, soccer historians and media individuals, so for Claudio to be chosen is testament to his impact on the game in the US. He is now tasked with laying the foundations for New York City FC and the first head coach of the team is one-time Real Salt Lake boss and ex-US international Jason Kreis.
Season tickets went on sale on Monday 21st April and New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera was the first holder. The former pitcher described soccer as his ‘number one game’ and although Man City are majority owners of NYCFC, the Yankees are part-owners too.
Claudio is closing in on a year as Sporting Director and he reflects on his feelings at present.
“It’s very exciting and certainly a privilege to be part of a project bringing a team to New York City – the greatest city in the world. It’s been very busy for all of us and no two days are the same.
“There’s always a new challenge with what I have to do in building the sporting department, whether it’s searching for players or finding staff with the right character traits to get us off and running. We have our logo now and we can really get our brand out there.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for all of us to get some real momentum going and to build something long-term for MLS.”
Working alongside Chief Business Officer and fellow New Jersey native Tim Pernetti, Claudio has clearly identified how he wants the playing personnel to be put together. College players and others from the US will be targeted and those from Latin America and then the rest of the world will be pursued. The long-term goal is for players from New York to be produced and to be seen on the roster and it is another aim for big names to join towards the end of their career.
Eight youth affiliate clubs spanning New York City’s Five Boroughs have just been announced and Claudio has spoken of establishing a common philosophy between the club and Man City. Although they will kick-off with the legendary Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx as their home, the plan is to build a soccer-specific stadium in the city.
It is undoubtedly an extremely promising time for Claudio and everyone else working on the project’s relatively opening stages. He describes what his position has taught him so far and also looks at the parallels between football and a role such as this.
“You are always learning about yourself when you’re doing things you’ve never done. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and their own personality to improve.
“One of mine is to become a better public speaker as I try to get our message out there of what we’re about. When you’re on the field playing you’re trying to pull people together and lead them.
“As a player, if you have a bad game you can turn it around quickly but with this role it’s not instant gratification and you have to have patience. I don’t sit here and pretend to have all the answers.
“Like football, you don’t get too carried away with the highs and you don’t get too down about the lows.
“You realise the importance of the team and that the greatest strength is the group. It doesn’t matter how good you can play, it’s about being together as a group.
“I learned in my career that it’s when it’s not good that you learn the most. It’s the learning process you go through as a player and in life.
“We had a blank canvas at New York City FC to build a club and that’s daunting but exciting too. It’s about the people you surround yourselves with and we want hard-working people who want to grow at what they do.
“We’re also taking soccer to the inner cities and to parents to plant that seed for the future.”
He may have stepped away from the midfield now but the impression Claudio left during his playing days ensures he has a legacy to be proud of. The regular closing question of these interviews sees the individual being asked to pick a fantasy 5-a-side team. With themselves included, it is up to them to select four of the best they have ever played alongside to fill the line-up.
It can’t have been easy for Claudio to narrow it down and there was originally an extra player chosen in his team. Unfortunately for ex-Rangers and Holland attacking midfielder Ronald de Boer he has to settle for a place on the subs’ bench. Claudio introduces his team and as Giovanni van Bronckhorst picked him in his line-up in our interview on here in 2011, the question was: would he return the favour?
“In goal, Kasey Keller – he was fantastic, a great friend and we had some of the greatest experiences together. I’ll go with Gio van Bronckhorst – a close friend and he put me in his team!
“Bernd Schuster in midfield – he was in the team when I was at Bayer Leverkusen, although he was at the end of his career. He was a legend and won trophies at Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
“Myself and Gio aren’t too fast so we need some speed in the team – Shaun Wright-Phillips. Before he went to Chelsea he had an unbelievable season for us at Manchester City.”
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