CHARLESTON, S.C. — Vancouver Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie is convinced: The best is yet to come from Nigel Reo-Coker, the English Premier League veteran who was officially announced as the club's latest acquisition on Thursday.
"He still believes and I believe that he hasn't hit his peak yet and time will tell if that's true or not," Rennie told media on Thursday afternoon at preseason training camp, adding that he considers Reo-Coker "a big piece for us."
Leadership, mentorship for the younger players, drive and determination is what Rennie expects out of his new signing. That's in addition to the versatility that the 28-year-old brings in covering multiple spots on the field -- Rennie wouldn't commit to any one yet — with options including central midfield and right back.
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And for the Reo-Coker critics who feel he didn't fulfill his potential during a lengthy career in England's top flight, Rennie wasn't buying any of it.
"It makes me laugh when people talk about his untapped potential," he said. "A 28-year-old player who captained Aston Villa, Bolton and West Ham and played in the Premiership at the age of 18 and captained the England Under-21s. ... I think he's fulfilled his potential. I'm not sure if that's completely accurate or fair."
The Whitecaps say the process to land Reo-Coker has taken roughly a month and they not only had to fight off international suitors — Rennie says Reo-Coker "probably had more lucrative offers than he had here" — but there was also a struggle with other MLS clubs to land him.
Given the competition, Rennie admits Reo-Coker's signing is a testament to how far MLS has come, but it also involved a heavy recruiting job and the Whitecaps manager enlisted the help of one of his former players at the Carolina RailHawks, Chris Nurse, who currently plays at Puerto Rico and grew up with Reo-Coker.
"Recruitment is a lot of work and it's not easy," Rennie said. "There's a lot of work behind the scenes that people don’t see. In the end we did get a chance to speak to him and explain our philosophy at the club and our vision for the future and it lines up well with his. … He wants to finish his career here and be here for a number of years."
Reo-Coker will join the squad for the first time in Charleston on Friday, but the Whitecaps expect him to arrive "virtually fit" given his most recent playing stint came with Ipswich Town at the end of 2012. But given the long flight to the US and the last time since he's played a competitive match, he likely won't be rushed into game action this weekend.
Rennie says he's content with the current makeup of what he calls a "well-rounded squad." And with the roster deadline approaching and still a few loan deals to be announced next week to ensure playing time for those who need it, he doesn't shy away from the fact that he will have some serious competition for spots in the starting lineup.
"It doesn't matter if they're good or bad players," Rennie said. "They're not happy if they're not playing. But I'd rather have good ones than bad ones. The more good players, the more competition."