Sunday 25 August 2019

Obituary: Jose Antonio Reyes

Gifted footballer who won a record five Europa League medals

Talent: Jose Antonio Reyes
Talent: Jose Antonio Reyes
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Jose Antonio Reyes, who has died aged 35 in a car accident, played for Arsenal, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in a career that never quite achieved its full potential yet was still graced by memorable moments of skill and garlanded with trophies, notably a record five triumphs in the Europa League.

A left-footed winger, Reyes signed for Arsenal at 21 in January 2004 for a fee which would rise to a then club-record £17m (€19m). Sevilla, the club where he had effectively grown up after joining them at nine, claimed that he was the quickest footballer in Europe with the ball at his feet. When news of the transfer broke, Spanish fans threw themselves at the car taking a reluctant Reyes to the airport.

Reyes helped the 'Invincibles' side to claim their unbeaten record that season, and made enough appearances to win a Premier League medal, the first Spaniard to do so.

However, despite his parents and older brother moving to England to live with him, he failed to settle. Things needed to be right for him to play well consistently, and increasingly they went wrong.

Some observers thought his confidence was damaged by the battering he received from Man Utd in the match that ended Arsenal's undefeated run. A prank call revealed that he hoped to move to Real Madrid. Then in 2005 he became only the second player to be sent off in an FA Cup final.In 2006, Reyes left Arsenal to Real on loan, but never returned.

Of Romany descent, Jose Antonio Reyes Caldeon was born at Utrera in Andalusia on September 1, 1983. His mother, Mari, once described the family's circumstances as "very, very, very humble".

He left school at 14, apparently with almost no education. Two years later, he became Sevilla's youngest-ever first-team player. He made his mark when the club beat Real Madrid 4-1 and Zinedine Zidane asked if Reyes was so quick because he was "on a motorbike".

Yet when he played for Real in 2006-07, on loan from Arsenal, he endured a difficult year. That summer he signed for Atletico Madrid but again failed to shine regularly and was loaned at the end of the season to Benfica.

There, he won the League Cup, returning after a year to Atletico, where the club began to get the best from him.

Atletico won the Europa League in 2010 and 2012; at the end of that season, Reyes returned to Sevilla.

He never perhaps rekindled the fans' unquestioning adoration of him but produced enough moments of brilliance in key matches to repay the debt he felt he owed them.

He moved on to Espanyol, and then had spells with Cordoba and in China before joining Extremadura, in Spain's second flight, in January.

He had scored 100 goals in a career spanning 686 matches. In addition, he was capped 21 times for his country, scoring four goals.

In 2017, he married Noelia Lopez. They had then been together for six years and had two daughters. His wife and their children survive him, together with a son from a previous relationship.

Jose Antonio Reyes died on June 1, 2019.

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