The diamond studs in each ear lobe offer glittering indication that the game of football has been good to Bobby Convey, the youngster from a modest Philadelphia background who is now a successful and popular Yank at Reading.
This afternoon at Upton Park the 23-year-old Convey will tangle with Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, old rivals from their days as youth internationals on the American continents, north and south. While not wishing to be over-helpful, and thus endangering Reading's eye-catching start to Premiership life and three-game unbeaten run, he wants to let the Argentinian pair know that settling in with West Ham United is likely to be a long and possibly painful process, since the same thing happened to him.
Convey, a left-sided (and left-footed) midfielder, joined Reading from the Major Soccer League club DC United in July 2004, exactly a year after a similar move to Tottenham had fallen down at the last minute when he was refused a work permit.
"I got here too late, about three days before the first game of the season," said Convey before taking his diamond accessories off for a workout at Reading's Hogwood Park training ground. The 2004-05 season was one in which Bobby would manage only seven games, and it took him a while to work out why.
"I thought it would be easy because everyone here speaks English, like me. But it's a completely different culture to the United States and you have to get used to it, get ready for the physical demands, week in and week out. I didn't think it would be that big an adjustment, but it was. Once I settled, I started every one of Reading's games last season and then went on to the World Cup with the US.
"It will be difficult at first for Tevez and Mascherano, too. Even apart from the question of a different language, in their country they play a completely different way. It will take at least six months to get used to different habits in a different league, what the coaching staff expect you to do and learning how the other players operate. In certain countries they are taught to keep the ball, but here it is a faster pace, one, two touch, not too much time on the ball. So you can't expect someone to do well the first few weeks."
Not many expected Reading to do well either, despite a phenomenal promotion year in which they piled up 106 points. "We were pretty much promoted after Christmas, we were so far ahead, but we still didn't get attention," Convey pointed out. "It wasn't supposed to happen, people kept saying we weren't good enough. Now the media is finally catching on that we are a good team, a young, hungry team who want to prove we can do well. I think we're doing that.
"We have played as a team for over a year now. Everyone gets on and everyone has the same goals, to do well and win, no one has his own agenda. And the gaffer [manager Steve Coppell] is very down to earth, doesn't get too excited about anything. He keeps everyone level-headed. If you have a problem, you go to him. If not, he leaves you alone. So life is simple here. You come in, manage yourself. He knows everyone here is a good professional, so he allows you to get on with it."
Convey is revelling in his first Premiership season. It is, he says with a smile, "like being in a video game, so exciting. The stadiums are amazing, the fans are amazing." So is he perhaps a touch overawed? A firm shake of the head. "I played my first game for the US national team at 17. It was against the Brazil of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, in the Los Angeles Rose Bowl, holds 85,000 people. So I wasn't really worried about being overawed by the Premiership. The Rose Bowl was a challenge and that's how you prove yourself, by playing against the best. Now I'm having the opportunity to do that every week."
Then, aware he might have perpetrated a statistical porky, he points out: "Actually, my first appearance for the US senior team was against Mexico [in October 2000]. I was on for something like a minute, so I don't really count that." Convey's regular use of the word "actually" is confirmation of how well he has settled among us; as he points out: "I turn more and more English with every week."
Convey's conversion to football in an America offering a staggering selection of sports and opportunities was achieved in simple fashion. "We weren't that rich at home, and soccer was the cheap sport. My brother, who is a year younger than me, could play in the same team and it was easy to drive us five minutes to a local field. All you needed was some boots and a ball. That's how it started, it wasn't because I knew I was going to be good. But by about 11 or 12 I completely fell for football."
By 15, Convey was playing for the US Under-17s and at 16 he was snapped up by DC United. In 2002 he was named US Young Athlete of the Year and in 2003, when he came close to joining Tottenham, he captained his country's Under-20 team to the quarter-finals of the Fifa World Youth Championships. So a place in last summer's World Cup, where he started against Italy and the Czech Republic and came on against Ghana, was simply natural progression.
That busy summer means he has had little time to reflect on Reading's incredible promotion season in which he played a key part, one of the few Americans to do well in the English game as an outfield player rather than as a goalkeeper like Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and his own club's Marcus Hahnemann. "Was it a fairytale? Yeah, pretty much, but three weeks after the World Cup I was back for pre-season training. But at the end of your career you can look back and say, 'That was pretty amazing'."
Convey acknowledges that with their small squad Reading could be in bother if injuries take a toll. "Right now I am carrying a little bit of a knee, just one of those things, but if we do get key injuries you have to bring in the right players. We have a good squad, so you have to make sure the people you bring in will make the team better, not just make the squad bigger." Good thinking, actually, Bobby.Reuse content