‘When a big money move went wrong’ – Arsenal’s Jose Antonio Reyes

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Reyes was just 20 when he joined Arsenal

Its common knowledge that when a player comes with a hefty price tag the weight of expectation becomes just that little bit more.
Numerous players have signed to great fanfare and have gone on to produce the goods but an equal amount have done the opposite. One such player being Spaniard Jose Antonio Reyes.

Many will argue that he is not a flop as he ended his spell in England with a Premier League medal, a FA Cup medal and was a runner up as Arsenal lost to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League.

But with the massive reputation he came with, it is more than obvious that Reyes did not come anywhere near to fulfilling the potential that caused the normally frugal Arsene Wenger to splash out £10.5m (rising to £17m with add ons)

Reyes built a huge reputation for himself in Spain playing for Sevilla and made his debut at just 16 years old. His performances captured the eye of both Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as numerous other European teams. But Reyes’ relationship with the club’s fans made a move to another Spanish club unlikely so in the January transfer window of the 03-04 season, to the chagrin of his manager who wished to retain his services, the 20 year old joined Arsenal. I can still remember the scenes of him at the airport being shown on Sky Sports News as it looked like Arsenal had snapped up a little gem.

He impressed in Arsenal’s unbeaten season in the league and in cup competitions with goals against Chelsea in the FA Cup and Champions League.

At the start of his first full season he scored in each of the opening 6 games but Reyes was clearly struggling to hack it in the faster, tougher Premier League. This was never more evident than in Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to Man United that ended their unbeaten streak at 49 games where Gary and Phil Neville roughed Reyes up no end with crunching tackles and fouls.

This was the start of Reyes’ indifferent form as rumours swirled that the Spaniard was homesick and had already grown disenchanted with Life in London. Reyes found himself on the receiving end of a cold prank by COPE radio in Spain when a DJ pretending to be Emilio Butragueño spoke to Reyes and his agent about a move back to Spain. In the conversation that was aired, Reyes admitted he was homesick and that a move back to Spain was possible. He also went on to add that there were bad people at the club that could force him out.

Despite this he grabbed 3 vital goals towards the end of the season and although becoming only the second man to be sent off in an FA Cup final, he would end speculation about a move away from the club by signing a new 6 year deal.

It must be taken into consideration that Reyes was very young when he moved to England thus he would struggle as every person adapts to change differently but his attitude did not help and after Arsenal’s run in the Champions League which saw them reach the 2006 final (losing to Barcelona), Reyes told the club he did not wish to play in a CL qualifier against Dinamo Zagreb as it would cup tie him and rule him out of a move to Real Madrid.

Wenger left him out and Reyes’ comments in the Spanish media effectively saw the end of his time in North London. A deal was soon reached with Madrid as Reyes was swapped with Julio Baptista (himself a candidate for this column had Arsenal paid for his services) for a season long loan.

His time in England had affected him and Reyes failed to impress on his loan at the Bernabeau and thus joined city rivals Atletico Madrid instead for less than Arsenal had paid Sevilla 3 years ago.

Before his move to Arsenal, Reyes was being touted as one of football’s hottest prospects but such an experience so early in his career disrupted his development and after a poor spell at Benfica he has now returned to Atletico Madrid. At 26 his career is nowhere near over but he will wonder about the heights he could have scaled if he had attempted to walk before he tried to run.