THE question is simple. Is Aberdeen centre back Mark Reynolds generally overrated or underrated as a footballer by his peers, coaches, fans and the media?
The guys at The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast give their answer.
Since making the centre back position a permanent role in the Aberdeen defence, Mark Reynolds has for me developed into the hardest Scottish-based centre back to face for opposing forwards after Virgil Van Dijk.
The former-Motherwell defender does not have any glaring weaknesses which you could pinpoint in the majority of centre halves in the country. His greatest strength is his pace. His long strides allow him to cover the ground like a gazelle - according to wikipedia the name gazelle comes from the Arabic Ghazal, meaning quick and elegant, making the comparison quite apt. Since the beginning of the 2013/14 campaign I can only think of one player who has beaten Reynolds for pace and that was the deceptively quick Stuart Armstrong. This pace allows him to cover both Russell Anderson, whose game has never been based on mobility, and Andrew Considine.
Despite his slender frame he is a powerful player, giving the Aberdeen backline extra strength, while he also provides the team with composure in defence. He is rarely flustered in and out of possession, confident at stepping out with the ball and playing passes which other defenders are hesitant at playing.
Perhaps one aspect of his game you can possibly pick holes in is his ability in the air but it is not at such a point where you go in expecting him to be bettered in the aerial battles by every striker. He is an all-round modern defender and easily one of the best in the league.
Listing Mark Reynolds’s attributes would suggest he has the ability to go perform at a higher level. He’s strong and quick and harbours intelligence about the game many in his profession lack. Furthermore, he is part of the Aberdeen side that brought home silverware for the first time in almost twenty years.
Despite this, and being capped at under-21 and B-level, he still awaits his first Scotland cap and finds himself down the pecking order behind the likes of Russell Martin and Grant Hanley - not exactly world-beaters - and, perhaps most damning of all, Ipswich Town’s Christophe Berra. Although I would hazard at suggesting this would be different had he been allowed, as a Motherwell player, to join Rangers back in 2008.
The fact is that Reynolds, for all his strengths, lacks decent distribution and is prone to the odd positioning error, a trait often papered over by his acceleration and pace. He left Lanarkshire in 2011 to join Sheffield Wednesday - then of League One in England - but failed to establish himself as a regular in the side and eventually returned to Aberdeen permanently after two loan spells with the club. I think it is fair to say that Reynolds is a good SPFL defender and nothing more.
It’s worth reiterating every so often, but Reynolds is one of the finest centre-halves in the Premiership. He is well equipped in most departments relevant to his position; good in the air, strong, a decent tackler, and so forth. But it is his tremendous pace and seemingly effortless composure that really elevate him in a division, not to mention a generation of Scottish counterparts, which is hardly richly stocked in central defence.
He isn’t flawless, mind. Craig is right to point to a less than impressive spell down south, although there were mitigating circumstances abound, as proof that he is merely at his level in Scotland. There is also a noticeable deterioration in his performances when he isn’t playing alongside Russell Anderson, which arguably suggests he still has to mature a little before before he plays at a higher standard - and those who watch Reynolds regularly persistently claim he is capable of more.
At this point a year ago, he’d be a cast-iron ‘underrated’, but his form over the last couple of seasons has turned more heads. The recognition he’s receiving in the form of inclusion in the national side has been, by most measures, overdue, though he only made the bench against Germany by virtue of an injury to Christophe Berra. To say that the man who claimed Aberdeen’s player of the season award last year is underrated may seem a bit of a stretch, but I still feel his range of attributes, combined with years of relative consistency, are worthy of greater acclaim.
Reynolds is adored by Aberdeen fans, respected by supporters of other clubs, and ignored by just about everybody else. Gordon Strachan, like Craig Levein and George Burley before him, doesn’t seem to rate the defender all that highly, grudgingly given him token appearances in the squad, always when injuries inflict other centre backs. Making it an even greater source of disrespect is the fact that the current Scotland’s centre half corps is our weakest in living memory, and that Reynolds can’t get in despite being the best defender on a top three team in Scotland. One which is routinely praised for its stingy defence.
His profile took a hammering by going down to England and failing so badly. But, as John mentioned, there were reasons for those struggles. A succession of Wednesday managers didn’t like his stature and used him mainly as a left-back. Reynolds is naturally adequate in the position since he possesses a good degree of football ability for a centre back. However, good for a centre back in terms of technique is usually average, at best, for a left-back and that’s exactly what Reynolds was. Disillusioned with the move he quickly jumped at the chance to come back to a league which respects his talents.
For me, this is a no-brainer. He’s a great player who has been routinely dismissed by managers throughout his career despite turning in solid performances at centre back whenever he’s had the chance.
Craig is co-founder of The Terrace and an online journalist with Scotsman.com.
Aberdeen’s ascent has put Reynolds into the Scottish football mainstream consciousness with universally positive opinion of his talents. As John alluded to, this question wasn’t as straight forward as it would have been 12 months ago. It still stands to reason, however, that until he’s a regular in the Scotland set-up - not necessarily a starter but around the squad - his abilities aren’t as highly respected as they should be.
Final verdict: Underrated