Jose Antonio Reyes leaves legacy of success borne out of Sevilla passion
Jose Antonio Reyes will be remembered as a Sevilla great who ignored the easy choices to leave a legacy of success and love.
The Spain international's boyhood club Sevilla announced on Saturday that the winger had died at the age of 35 following a traffic collision.
"We couldn't be confirming worse news," they wrote, as the reality of the club losing one of its most famous and beloved sons set in.
Across a successful 20-year career that began in the modest surroundings of Sevilla's reserves, Reyes made 686 appearances in club football, taking him from Spain to England, Portugal and China.
We couldn't be confirming worse news. Beloved Sevilla star José Antonio Reyes has died in a traffic collision. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/qeGl2nsi3c— Sevilla FC (@SevillaFC_ENG) June 1, 2019
The competition with which his connection was greatest was the Europa League and he is the only player to win it five times. Fittingly, Reyes' local club Sevilla are the only team to lift that same trophy on five occasions.
He was prodigious when he first burst onto the scene, with Reyes still the youngest player to ever represent Sevilla in LaLiga, having made his debut at 16 years, four months and 29 days in January 2000.
"What I saw Reyes do I am yet to see anyone else do, except [Lionel] Messi," said Joaquin Caparros, the coach who moulded him into a player that Spain first selected in 2003.
A fine dribbler and possessor of a wondrous left foot, Reyes moved to London in January 2004 in a deal worth £17million and he was part of the Arsenal team that won the title without losing a game.
Although Reyes made an impression, winning two trophies, reaching a Champions League final and scoring some spectacular goals, he was inexperienced and thrust into an expectant atmosphere.
Everyone at Arsenal is devastated by the shocking news that our former player Jose Antonio Reyes has died in a traffic collision in Spain.— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) June 1, 2019
Jose Antonio Reyes: 1983-2019
Rest in peace, Jose pic.twitter.com/AT6rLFutvI
A combination of reported homesickness and inconsistency resulted in a loan to Real Madrid. An otherwise forgettable spell ended with Reyes crucially scoring twice against Real Mallorca to secure the title.
Atletico Madrid brought him back to Spain permanently, though initially Reyes struggled at the Vicente Calderon, where supporters refused to forget his time across the city.
After no goals in 37 appearances, Atletico sent Reyes on loan to Quique Sanchez Flores' Benfica for the 2008-09 campaign, and the following season they reunited in Madrid, where they won the Europa League.
When his Atletico career petered out, Reyes' time at the top appeared over. MLS, Turkey or the Middle East looked the easy choices for his next move. Instead, Sevilla reinvigorated him.
There was an air of 'what might've been' upon his return in January 2012. Reyes had missed the most successful period in his beloved club's history. Such a golden era would surely never be experienced again in Nervion.
But Reyes got the Sevilla success he dreamed of, winning three straight Europa League titles to take his personal tally to five.
Everyone at UEFA is shocked & hugely saddened to learn that José Antonio Reyes has died aged 35.— UEFA (@UEFA) June 1, 2019
A Spanish international with 5 @EuropaLeague titles, Reyes will be sorely missed by the football world.
Our thoughts are with his family & friends at this terrible time. pic.twitter.com/EW4btJ9Vf9
"I think he wasn't demanding enough with himself [at Arsenal], but I also think at Sevilla he demands more from himself," Caparros said.
That was never more notable than the November 2012 Derbi Sevillano against bitter rivals Real Betis, when Reyes scored the first of a brace after 11 seconds and got an assist in a 5-1 demolition.
"Having a team-mate like Reyes is fun," Sevilla colleague Ever Banega said in 2014. For all the inconsistency, there was also sheer talent and joy – in full-flight he was every child's idea of what a footballer should be.
"He's a great, talented player," said his coach of three years, Unai Emery. "Sevilla fans love Reyes. He is different because of his talent."
He really was fun, and he was Sevilla.
Reyes departed as a hero in 2016 and went on to represent Espanyol, Cordoba, Xinjiang Tianshan and Extremadura, whom he helped save from relegation this season.
The unconditional love between Reyes and Sevilla rejuvenated his career – the club will now ensure that passion and the Europa League three-peat live on as his legacy.