It’s appropriate to mark the untimely death of former Arsenal player Jose Antonio Reyes, who died tragically in a car crash in the west of Spain yesterday morning.
Whilst Reyes’ playing career was winding down, he was still an active footballer, playing for Extremadura in Spain’s second division. He’d become something of a journeyman footballer in recent seasons, playing for four different clubs since leaving Sevilla three years ago, including a brief stint in China. However, before that, he’d seen plenty of glory after departing Arsenal. He was in the starting elevens in three winning Europa League finals, at Atletico Madrid in 2010, and under Unai Emery for Seville in 2014 and 2015. His final season as an Arsenal player was played out on loan at Real Madrid where he helped them win La Liga.
He spent two and a half years actually playing for Arsenal, arriving in the January transfer window of the 2003-04 Invincibles season, and two goals in a 4th Round FA Cup tie against Chelsea made him an immediate favourite with the Highbury crowd. He only scored a couple of goals in his 13 Premier League appearances that season as his new club secured the title, although in the following campaign he would prove more prolific, scoring nine in his 30 league games.
One of the problems with Reyes was communication. His Spanish was reputed not to be brilliant, and there was little chance of him learning English. It led to frustration and he had a fractious relationship with Thierry Henry, the latter often communicating his obvious displeasure with facial expressions or body language. Reyes either played as a wide attacker in a 4-2-4 formation, or as a strike partner with Henry if Dennis Bergkamp wasn’t playing. With Henry injured for the 2005 FA Cup Final, Reyes started with Bergkamp as a lone striker, and was sent off near the end of extra time.
His goal contribution declined in the club's final season at Highbury, and he was on the bench for the Champions League final in Paris, coming on as a late sub when his team were 2-1 down. It was evident that he was not happy in London, and he never played for Arsenal again, returning to Spain on loan to Real before in the summer of 2007 being sold to their city rivals Atletico.
Gooners will have mixed memories of Reyes. There were some great moments in three memorable seasons, but these were combined with a number of displays when he was more anonymous. He contributed to two trophies, a run to a Champions League final and was part of a great Arsenal team. He represented the Spanish national team on 21 occasions, 19 of those while he was based in England.
At last night’s Champions League Final, a minute’s tribute to the Reyes was held before the game began, I suspect because it was being played at the home of one of his former clubs. Nevertheless, it was a nice touch to acknowledge his unfortunate death.
It’s natural to think we will all have a long life before we die. We expect to at least reach retirement age. Reyes wasn’t so fortunate. 35 is no age. Whatever you are doing today, stop and take a moment to appreciate you are around to be able to do it. Jose Reyes would have assumed that today he’d be part of the Extremadura squad travelling to face Cadiz. That game has been postponed until Tuesday in the light of his death.
Sadly, Reyes is no longer with us to play any further matches. May he rest in peace, with the thanks of Arsenal fans for his contribution to some very good times.