EXCLUSIVE: Jose Antonio Reyes’ father says his son and Mikel Arteta were ‘like brothers’ as his family open their doors to Mail Sport ahead of an emotional night as Arsenal and Sevilla face-off in the Champions League
- The family of Jose Antonio Reyes’ have opened their doors to Mail Sport
- It comes as his two favourite teams Arsenal and Sevilla go head-to-head
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
As Francisco Reyes switches on the light in his basement, sheer pride fills the room.
The 66-year-old cannot stop ushering Mail Sport in different directions, pointing out a huge collection of his son’s football boots, shirts and pictures.
The central theme in both this room and the house in Utrera, a municipality on the outskirts of Seville, is Jose Antonio Reyes. The former Arsenal winger died aged 35 in a car crash in southern Spain on June 1, 2019, when the vehicle he and his cousin Jonathan, 23, were in overturned and burst into flames. Reyes’ other cousin, Juan Manuel Calderon, survived with severe burns after trying to rescue them.
The reverberations from that wreckage are still being felt. On Monday, manager Mikel Arteta along with other Arsenal staff members visited a memorial area at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium. Arteta and Sevilla president Jose Castro later laid floral tributes in the Sevilla museum, where there is a commemorative area for Reyes.
Arsenal face Sevilla on Tuesday for the first time in a competitive game since Reyes’s death. Of the teams the Spaniard represented, which include Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Benfica, Arsenal and Sevilla are the two which were particularly close to his heart, according to his father.
Jose Antonio Reyes’ father, Francisco, holds up two of his sons shirts for Arsenal and Sevilla
The family have a collection of memorabilia, pictures and old shirts dedicated to Reyes, who sadly passed away aged 35 in 2019
Francisco said his son’s two favourite teams were Arsenal and Sevilla and said Tuesday’s clash will ‘be a lot of feeling’
‘He liked everything about Arsenal,’ Francisco tells Mail Sport, as his mother Mariana nods with pride. ‘Apart from Sevilla, the second favourite club for us as a family and for Jose was Arsenal. The match will be a lot of feeling. We want a draw!
‘(Atletico) Madrid said to Jose, “Do you want to come back to your home country?” If they didn’t say that, he would have stayed at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger really was the best coach. After the death, he spoke to me, he made a nice speech. He said it was a huge loss that everybody felt at the club.
‘Edu and (Robert) Pires used to call him “brother”, and he’d call them “brother”. Jose and Arteta used to sleep in the same room when they were away with Spain. They were like brothers, too.’
Arteta himself said in his pre-match press conference on Monday: ‘We spent quite a lot of time together. At that (youth) age, I can’t recall a better player.
‘He had everything, he played for both clubs and is a big part of our history. He is probably up there (pointing to the sky) and feeling proud for both clubs. Tomorrow will be a special night for him.’
Back at Reyes’s home, each pair of boots he used in his career are pristinely lined up against a wall. The number of shirts hung is in the dozens, including the one worn in Arsenal’s final game at Highbury against Wigan.
It has been a big week for the family. Jose’s 16-year-old son, Jose Antonio Reyes Jnr, signed his first professional contract with Real Madrid last Tuesday. Francisco says: ‘Jose would be so proud of him.’
Reyes played for Arsenal between 2004 and 2007 and won an FA Cup and Premier League title with the Gunners
His father claimed that he and Arteta (right) were ‘like brothers’ and that ‘Jose and Arteta used to sleep in the same room when they were away with Spain’
Arteta’s side are preparing to take on Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday night
Reyes started out at CD Utrera before joining Sevilla as a 10-year-old. He would become one of Europe’s most promising talents, joining the Gunners for £17million in January 2004. Just four months later, he won the Premier League in the Invincibles season. He made 69 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 16 goals.
After spells at Real and Atletico Madrid and Benfica, he returned to his beloved Sevilla in 2012 and won three consecutive Europe League titles. His status at the club is clear.
‘Reyes for us was a special star,’ Sevilla president Castro tells Mail Sport. ‘And for me, he was like a son because I saw him grow up as a child first, and as a footballer, in Utrera. His early death has undoubtedly made him a symbol, a myth of Sevilla FC.’
In the Utrera streets, the feelings remain. A statue of Jose, unveiled in August, is in front of the local stadium. Workers there lead me to his brother Jesus, 43. ‘The Arsenal match brings a complicated feeling,’ Jesus tells Mail Sport. ‘There’s too many emotions. He was such a splendid person. There is still pain in my heart. He would tell me it was wonderful playing for Arsenal. My thoughts will only be for him.’
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