Gio Reyna to Nottingham Forest isn’t an ideal transfer — it’s a superagent's stopgap

16 December 2023, Bavaria, Augsburg: Soccer: Bundesliga, FC Augsburg - Borussia Dortmund, Matchday 15, WWK-Arena. Dortmund coach Edin Terzic (l) and Dortmund's Gio Reyna (r) thank the fans for their support after the match. Photo: Tom Weller/dpa - IMPORTANT NOTE: In accordance with the regulations of the DFL German Football League and the DFB German Football Association, it is prohibited to utilize or have utilized photographs taken in the stadium and/or of the match in the form of sequential images and/or video-like photo series. (Photo by Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Gio Reyna has signed with Nottingham Forest on loan through the end of the English Premier League season. It’s the first step toward a potential transfer away from Borussia Dortmund, a transfer that Reyna has been angling for as his playing time waned at the German club. And it’s a necessary change, one that could reboot Reyna’s still-promising career.

But it’s not an ideal fit.

It is, rather, a stopgap solution engineered by a superagent, Jorge Mendes.

Reyna, 21 and long viewed as perhaps the most talented player the United States has ever produced, hired Mendes in December for this very reason. He’d previously been represented by a U.S.-based agency, Wasserman. But with his future at Dortmund increasingly dim, Reyna knew he’d soon need a new home — and Mendes, arguably European soccer’s most well-connected agent, was the perfect person to find him one.

Mendes doesn’t just field calls from potential suitors. He reportedly offered Reyna, proactively, to a variety of clubs in Spain, France and elsewhere. The middle-tier Spanish clubs — such as Real Sociedad, Villarreal and Sevilla — seemed like excellent options in a league where Reyna’s smooth playmaking style could thrive.

But some of those clubs reportedly weren’t interested. Some were, but never agreed to terms of a potential deal with Dortmund. Reyna, once valued well over $40 million at the height of his teenage stardom, is apparently no longer viewed as a can’t-miss prospect. Dortmund reportedly wanted around $15-20 million for a permanent transfer. None materialized.

So Mendes turned to an old reliable, Nottingham Forest, a volatile English club that currently sits two points above the Premier League’s relegation zone.

Mendes has used his connections and power to establish significant sway at Forest. The club’s Greek owner, Evangelos Marinakis, reportedly sought out Mendes around the time he bought Forest in 2016, and they’ve maintained an on-and-off working relationship ever since. And they are currently “on.” In December, Forest fired their coach and hired a Mendes client, Nuno Espirito Santo. The Athletic reported at the time that Mendes and Marinakis “are working closer together than ever before, practically as business partners.”

It’s unclear how, exactly, this relationship influenced Reyna’s impending move to Forest. The key questions, of course, are whether Espirito Santo truly wants Reyna and how much he’ll play.

Morgan Gibbs-White, a ball-carrying central midfielder, has established himself as Forest’s No. 10 — in Reyna’s preferred position. A rotating cast of wingers have completed the line of three in Forest’s 4-2-3-1, so perhaps Reyna could seize a role out wide. But he will have to compete for it, just as he had to at Dortmund. He will also have to prove that he can withstand the pace and physical brutality of the Premier League.

Health and competition are what ultimately derailed Reyna’s burgeoning career at Dortmund. He was rising, rapidly, until a 2021 hamstring injury interrupted his ascent. As a 17- and 18-year-old in 2020-21, he played 46 games (30 starts) in the Bundesliga, Champions League and German cups. He has only started 17 games since.

He re-injured the hamstring shortly after returning in 2022. He reestablished himself in a substitute role throughout the following season. But in June 2023, while starring for the U.S. men’s national team in the CONCACAF Nations League final, a fluky tackle fractured his fibula. That latest injury kept him out until October. In his absence, at least four attacking midfielders or wingers solidified themselves on Dortmund’s depth chart ahead of him.

Earlier this month, Dortmund brought in a fifth, Jadon Sancho — the very player Reyna was supposed to replace three years ago, when Dortmund sold Sancho to Manchester United. Sancho’s return was the clearest indicator yet that Reyna had to leave.

He remained a key figure for the USMNT even as he rode the bench, goalless and frustrated, at Dortmund. But he is still remarkably young, just two months past his 21st birthday. To grow, and to resume his rise to the top of the U.S. player pool, he has to play.

He may or may not play extensively at Forest. He may or may not succeed in the heat of a high-stakes relegation battle. He may or may not adapt to the speed of the Premier League. All of those are reasons that this move is something less than optimal.

But it’s better than a few spare minutes per week at Dortmund. And it isn’t permanent. After rumors and reports that the deal would include an option for Forest to buy Reyna outright, the latest reports from England and Germany suggest that there is not a purchase clause. Forest will simply pay his salary and a small loan fee. Reyna will extend his Dortmund contract through June 2026.

So he will get a chance to prove his worth. Then he’ll either go back into Dortmund's long-term plans or, more likely, back onto the market this summer. That will be the time to find a new home, a new hub to jumpstart his career.