Arsène Wenger rarely makes mistakes in the transfer market but when Arsenal FC paid a fortune to bring José Antonio Reyes from Sevilla FC to London last January, eyebrows were raised at such a big fee for a player with little experience outside his home-town club.
Six months on, and it is clear Wenger has produced another gem as the Gunners look to defend the Premiership title they won with such aplomb in May. With Patrick Vieira spending the summer deliberating over his future and Wenger still to sign a new contract, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for questioning whether their club's recent domination of English football was about to end.
But Reyes, who put on a sparkling display in the traditional season-opening FA Community Shield game against FA Cup winners Manchester United FC, was the one major positive to emerge from a tough pre-season in which the Wenger empire threatened to crumble. The fact that Vieira turned down overtures from Real Madrid CF was an unexpected bonus.
"All seasons are important but I guess this one is especially so because it's my first full campaign," Reyes told uefa.com. "Obviously I'm keen to get off to the best possible start."
Pace and penetration
Wenger is expected to partner Reyes with Thierry Henry in a searingly quick attack which will doubtless put the frighteners on defences across Europe. The manager hopes that Reyes' pace and penetration will make him as equally revered by the fans as the likes of Vieira and Henry.
Home from home
"He has adapted very quickly," said Wenger. "I thought he would need time and that's why I bought him in January, to give him those extra months. In effect I bought him for this season." A clear message to Reyes in terms of what is expected of him but one he relishes.
"When I arrived maybe I was physically a bit weak. I didn't realise how hard the English game was," Reyes said. "But I finished last season well and I don't really feel any pressure to deliver. All I can do is play the best I can."
Disappointed to have been left out of Spain's squad for UEFA EURO 2004™, Reyes is obviously keen to break into the national side but feels he can only do that by performing consistently for his club. He has not made a bad start, with a spate of goals in pre-season and eye-catching displays in the 3-1 win against Manchester United and the Premiership opening day 4-1 victory at Everton FC.
Reyes could have gone to Madrid before signing for Arsenal but is convinced he has made the right decision and is surprised how well Arsenal, and himself in particular, have been received in his home town of Seville.
"When I went back during the summer the reception I got was bigger even than when I playing for them. But now I'm an Arsenal player and every day I am here, I feel more settled.
When you come abroad to play in a different team, it's always important to settle in and express yourself."
Pass and move
Team-mate Dennis Bergkamp says Reyes already has that Arsenal style about him. "He's got a very good eye for little one-twos and going into space. When I'm going there, he will spot me. It's the Arsenal style - a good eye for the ball," said the Dutchman. Few players would justify a €25.6m price tag - but Reyes is already proving fantastic value.
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