Claudio Reyna and I
I swear it happened like this: back in 2003, I was walking along the sidewalk that runs behind the beach in Santa Monica with one of various ex-girlfriends when I noticed another couple walking toward us. As they got closer, it became clear that the guy looked exactly like Claudio Reyna.
So as we were about to pass them, I said to X, “That guy looks just like Claudio Reyna,” in a voice loud enough that he certainly would have heard me. Possibly-Claudio, hearing this, looked at his female companion and did that Bill the Cat tongue-thing that’s impossible to express in print (“phbbbblt”). The other couple passed us by, and that was it.
The first major question is, was this actually Claudio? I’m 80% certain that it was. First off, I’ve seen enough of the guy that I know what Claudio Reyna looks like. Plus, this was at a time when he was recovering from an injury (admittedly, not an uncommon occurrence), so that would explain why he was in So Cal despite it being the middle of the season for Man City. Finally, who but Claudio Reyna would have reacted upon hearing his name? It’s not as though the average person who looks like Claudio Reyna likely hears that much; CR10 is a great player but not exactly a household name in America (though he may deserve to be).
The next question is, did I miss some great opportunity? I’m not so sure. Although my heart doesn’t bleed for celebrities who complain about how their fame makes it difficult to be anonymous in public, neither do I feel any desire to accost them myself. I certainly don’t want to get an autograph, and I’m a bit old to be star-struck by a soccer player (though it might be different in the case of actresses; if I ran into Angelina Jolie on the street, all bets would be off and I’d likely become a pathetic drooling sycophant on the spot, pledging my eternal devotion and what have you).
Nick Hornby has a similar note about meeting players in Fever Pitch. He observes that there’s not a lot you can say that doesn’t seem awkward, and there’s something in the male ego that doesn’t want to admit too much in the way of admiration lest you come off like a teenybopper fan. The point is that eventually you outgrow any sense of hero-worship for soccer players, and that’s probably for the best.
Now this isn’t to say that I haven’t imagined alternative scenarios where I did stop and greet Claudio in Santa Monica that day and talked shop with him. No “you’re the greatest!” tomfoolery, but two aficionados discussing the game they love. I’d be interested to see what players have to say about the moments and games that stand out in my memory as a fan of the USMNT. That’s not to say that it couldn’t be disappointing to find out that a player has no real interest or sophistication when it comes to appreciating the game itself. I suspect that this is often the case based on the incredibly dull interviews most players give (e.g., “I’m just going to give 110% and try to help the team”).
I don’t really regret not accosting Claudio that day, though. There’s an inevitable gulf between players and fans, and I’m perfectly at ease letting it persist.