28 January 2004

On 28 January 2004 Jose Antonio Reyes transferred to Arsenal from Sevilla for £10.5m.  He later played over 100 games for Atletico Madrid and Sevilla having played 69 for Arsenal

It can occasionally seem strange to remember some of the names that played in the Invincibles (although I most certainly was there).  I mean, we all know Lehmann did the 38 games, something no one else achieved, and we remember Henry, Vieira, Pirès, Lauren, Toure, Cole, Campbell, Ljungberg, Gilberto Silva  – all playing 30 or so games.   And of course Bergkamp just a little way behind.

But the names of some of the players who were also there come back to me as a bit of a shock.   Pascal Cygan got 10 starts, only two short of Parlour, for example.  And Joes Antonio Reyes started 7 and was a sub in 6.  It seems (to me at least) hard to believe now that he was part of that campaign.

Yet Reyes came with such fanfares; the man bought amidst protests by the fans at his old club.   The great rising star.  And?

He was born 1 September 1983, started with Sevilla aged 16, joined Arsenal aged 20 having played 86 games for the team.  He managed 69 league starts for us between 2004/7 before going to Real Madrid on loan, then Atlético Madrid then Benfica on loan then Sevilla to which he returned in 2012.

Overall for us he only scored 16 goals, but they came in bursts, most notably six in six at the start of the 2004/5 season.  Otherwise, he just didn’t happen for him and inconsistency was the name of his game.

There were always stories about Reyes.  He was from a Romani family (Gitanos) and the tales were from the start that no only could he not speak English, but also that could hardly be understood by his team mates in Spain, because of the thickness of his accent.   He only liked the local food that his family provided, and in essence was endlessly homesick for a totally different lifestyle – although his parents and his brother moved to England to be with him so presumably he got mothers’ cooking.

On 21 May 2005 he was sent off in the FA Cup Final, only the second player to suffer the indignity, but then signed a new six year contract soon after and in 2006 played in the Champions League final.

But after that it was all downhill, with Real Madrid taking up the role we later associated with Barcelona, of targeting players and deliberately unsettling them (they were also doing it to Cesc at the time, just to annoy Barca).

In the summer of 2006 Reyes left for Real Madrid in a one year exchange deal with Júlio Baptista.  On 30 July 2007 it was announced Reyes had left Arsenal for good.  No one really minded.

He is a player who, one might say, had his moments.  Those six in six for us, the two scored for Real Madrid to give them the championship… but then also a whole season with Atletico Madrid in which he failed to score.

Then the total tragey; on 1 June 2019, Reyes died at the age of 35 following a car accident.  Early reports that the car had been travelling at 135mph were disputed.

But he remains honoured as a player who played in the Unbeaten Team, played in Cup Final and a Euro Cup Final, and for those days he stays in our memories.