Gio Reyna, a worthy successor to Jadon Sancho as Borussia Dortmund's No.7
Borussia Dortmund fans need not fear the loss of Jadon Sancho this summer, with USA international Gio Reyna ready to step into the Englishman's shoes - and shirt - to drive BVB's bid for glory in 2021/22.
Sancho's exit does see the England winger take with him 38 Bundesliga goals and 52 assists from his 104 appearances in the German top-flight - including eight strikes and 11 provisions last term - but club chiefs have moved quickly to plug that gap.
Dutchman Donyell Malen has been recruited to bring additional, jet-heeled firepower to the Dortmund attack and in the form of Reyna they already have a player ready and raring to fill the Sancho void.
Reyna wasted no time in grabbing Sancho's No.7 shirt, giving a definitive indication that the 18-year-old is firmly focused on taking up the baton from his former teammate. And the pair had long discussed this very outcome.
"We talked about it before, that if he was ever going to make a move or leave that he wanted me to have it," Reyna explained in an interview posted on the club's social media platforms. "I was willing to take it and I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done here. He’s done great things with this number and for the club and he’s helped me a lot throughout the years. Hopefully I can keep it going this season and for the seasons to come."
It may be asking a lot for a teenager to do so, but you need only look at the rapid rise of both those players to know that age is but a number, especially at Dortmund.
Just ask 21-year-old talisman Erling Haaland, who will be hoping, more than anyone, that Reyna can provide him with the ammunition to fire Marco Rose's side forward this term, having enjoyed such a productive partnership with Sancho over their 18 months together.
“I just turned 21, but it's true, I'm not the youngest for a long time," Haaland told media as Dortmund's pre-season preparations ramped up. "I advise them to be themselves without fear. That's how I did it when I got here. I tell them that they‘re good, that there is a reason they‘re here."
Clearly, Reyna is a fearless footballer and he contested the most on-field duels of any Dortmund player in 2020/21 (607), winning 48 percent of those battles.
Watch: Gio Reyna's learning curve in 2020/21
It's also evident that there's plenty of compelling reasons why Reyna is such an important player for Dortmund at such a young age, and Sancho's exit now provides him with an opportunity to kick-on - something he has done at every turn of his emergence thus far.
The youngest American to feature in the Bundesliga, second youngest of his countrymen to score in the league, the first USA player to grab a hat-trick of assists in a single Bundesliga game, and the youngest from his country to play in - and win - a major domestic cup final in Europe; Reyna's progress has waited for no-one.
On the pitch, this teenager has no chill. There is no desire to remove his foot from the pedal, and he takes some stopping - as 49 fouls against Reyna last year give testament to.
It was the then 17-year-old that last season got Dortmund's campaign underway with their opening goal of the 2020/21 campaign: not Haaland, not Sancho. That kicked-off a productive start to the season for Reyna who went on to contribute seven BVB efforts (three goals, four assists) across their opening 11 games.
Watch: Jadon Sancho's Bundesliga mixtape
If he can once again bolt from the gate when Dortmund face Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 1, it will further ease any pangs over the departure of Sancho.
The true test will then be for Reyna to sustain that form over the course of a full season, delivering the kind of consistency that both Haaland and Sancho have been able to. Reyna himself is all too aware that turning in match-winning performances week-in, week-out represents his next biggest challenge.
He said: "I think everybody saw the bits of what I can do last season but I guess to put it through 40-plus games this season and try to consistently put more good performances in. Really just try to be a little more consistent, try to take my game to the next level and improve in any way possible."
For instance, while Reyna easily outpointed Sancho over the opening 11 matchdays last time out (Sancho went goalless during that time), the Englishman had comfortably outstripped his American teammate's four goals and five assists by the end of the campaign.
But Reyna's role in Dortmund's run-in - that secured UEFA Champions League football for the season ahead and delivered DFB Cup glory - was as significant as anyone else's and point to him growing into the added responsibility that will soon fall on his shoulders.
He was named from the off in all but one of their seven wins on the bounce that closed out the Bundesliga campaign, contributing a goal and an assist during that time. Sancho, in comparison, delivered two goals and two assists, but started just three of those matches.
In total, Reyna started 23 times in the top-tier and featured in 32 of Dortmund's 34 league matches, eight of 10 in the Champions League and five of six in the domestic cup. He may have been one of the youngest players in the squad, but only experienced duo Marco Reus (49) and Mats Hummels (48) played in more matches than Reyna (46) in all competitions.
And while it was Haaland and Sancho that stole the headlines for sharing the goals in the 4-0 win over RB Leipzig in the DFB Cup final, Reyna's dominance in the semi-final of the competition again suggests that he is more than capable of delivering big performances when his team needs them most.
The USA international - who already has four goals in just eight senior appearances for his country - scored twice inside the first 23 minutes of the semi to ensure Dortmund booked their spot in the showpiece with little fuss.
Reyna's soaring development proves that the sky is the limit - not just for him, but also Dortmund and the USA. And it's him that's throwing down the gauntlet moving forward, setting his own lofty ambitions for the future.
"I already feel like I'm becoming part of the new generation of big players," he wrote in The Players' Tribune. "I don't want to become just a good American player. I want to consistently be one of the top 10 players in the world."
On evidence thus far, you would back Reyna to do just that, giving Dortmund supporters plenty of reasons to trust their young American to go on and match Sancho’s contributions.
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