Remembering Jose Antonio Reyes

Jose Antonio Reyes with the Premier League trophy

When Jose Antonio Reyes arrived at Arsenal on January 30, 2004, he declared: "I am the happiest man in the world at this moment, and at the same time the saddest”. 

The 20-year-old was regarded as one of the hottest young prospects in world football, and it was befitting that his talents were heading to arguably the best team in Europe, midway through a league season they were going to complete without losing a match. But Jose Antonio’s delight at joining Arsène Wenger’s stellar cast of players was tempered by the fact he was leaving his beloved hometown Sevilla FC, where he had been making a name for himself since joining the youth team as a 10-year-old.

Jose Antonio Reyes with Arsene Wenger

Wenger admitted that bringing a player into an attacking group that already glittered with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sylvain Wiltord, Kanu and young Jeremie Aliadiere wasn’t easy, but this was a very special Spaniard.

"It’s not easy to find a player who can fit into this team and we searched everywhere before settling on Jose,” said the Gunners’ boss. “We have been watching him for a long time, at least 40 times for Sevilla. We have done our homework, it’s not an impulsive decision. He has the talent – that’s obvious – now the rest is down to him.”

Supporters were excited. Highlights compilations of players were relatively new and fans salivated as they watched the tearaway teen score fantastic goal after fantastic goal for Sevilla, looking supremely sharp and incredibly quick. And they didn’t have to wait long to see genius in the flesh. 

Jose Antonio’s first goals for the club came in his fifth match, an FA Cup fifth-round tie against Chelsea. Receiving the ball from current technical director Edu, the Spaniard advanced 10 yards before smiting a rocket past Carlo Cudicini into the top corner from 25 yards. 

Supporters were still celebrating just five minutes later when he latched onto a Patrick Vieira pass to neatly slot past Cudicini and win the game 2-1. It was a performance that anyone present will never forget, as all four sides of Highbury lustily sang ‘Jose Antonio, Jose Antonio’ to the tune of La Donna e Mobile from Rigaletto.

Jose Antonio Reyes celebrates scoring against Chelsea

At the end of the season, with the league won and the team not firing on all cylinders – despite Wenger telling his team that if they completed a season unbeaten they would be football immortals – Jose Antonio scored the crucial equaliser at Portsmouth to earn us a point and scored the only goal in our penultimate game of the campaign, against Fulham.

In 2004/05, he started the season like a train, scoring in our first six games of the season, ending the campaign with 12 goals and an FA Cup winners medal – though a sending-off in the 120th minute of the cup win against Manchester United indicated the battles he was involved in with Alex Ferguson’s team during that era. The following season was less prolific for Jose Antonio with six goals, but he was heavily involved in our march to the Champions League final, playing 12 times in the competition including a late cameo in the final.

Jose Antonio Reyes with the FA Cup

Rumours of Real Madrid wanting to take Jose Antonio ‘home’ came to pass and before getting the opportunity to play at the new Emirates Stadium, he was allowed to leave for the Bernabeu for a season-long loan at the start of the 2006 season – after playing for Spain in the World Cup. After 12 months at Real – winning La Liga – he controversially headed across town to Atletico Madrid on a permanent transfer from the Gunners for a successful five-season spell, winning the Europa League twice and the European Super Cup.

Jose Antonio then enjoyed a return to Sevilla for four seasons, winning a hat-trick of Europa Leagues, and captaining the team to the 2015 triumph. Into his 30s and the forward had spells with Espanyol, Cardoba and finally Extremedura, after a brief spell in China at Xinijiang.

Jose Antonio Reyes with the Europa League trophy

He died in a car accident on June 1, 2019 on the road between his home town Utrera and Sevilla, a 20-mile stretch he had travelled many, many times before. His death shocked the footballing world. A player at the forefront of the game for over a decade. A hero to many supporters, a friend to many, a husband to Noella and a father to Jose Antonio Jr, Noella and Triana.

Football, and most pertinently Arsenal and Sevilla FC, will always remember him.

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