I have fond memories of Jose Antonio Reyes.
I still recall my excitement and curiosity when he joined Arsenal from Sevilla in the January transfer window of the 2003/04 season – just a 20-year-old with the world at his feet.
None of us knew too much about him other than he was highly-rated and hotly coveted, with both Chelsea and Liverpool reportedly interested in signing him too.
He arrived to much fanfare and only stuck around for three years before returning to Spain, but he left a lasting impression.
He moved to English football during a landmark season.
Arsenal were in the middle of their unparalleled ‘Invincibles’ campaign and Reyes certainly played his part in the latter stages by netting a handful of crucial goals.
Perhaps his most memorable moment came in the FA Cup fifth-round clash with Chelsea when he scored twice in a famous 2-1 win.
His first goal was very, very special.
But Reyes was so much more to the English game than just another foreign import, as he became the first Spaniard to win the Premier League.
Perhaps he didn’t realise it at the time, but by doing so he became a pioneer of the Spanish influence in England; as someone who paved the way for the brilliant Iberian talent we get to enjoy today.
The number of Spanish players in the Premier League has been on the rise over the last 15 years and there’s little doubt that their presence has enriched the English game, be it through the likes of David Silva, David De Gea, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres or Cesar Azpilicueta.
At a time when more and more foreign players are moving to the Premier League to challenge themselves in the high-intensity cauldron of English football, Reyes was the first from Spain to take the plunge AND taste success.
And that’s how we should remember him.
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