Jose Antonio Reyes has crammed a lot into his career to date. A teenage sensation with Sevilla, he has since won trophies with Arsenal, Real Madrid, Benfica and current club Atletico Madrid, breaking into the Spain side along the way and forming part of the Roja squad at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
The first Spanish player to collect an English Premier League winners’ medal, a feat he achieved with the Gunners in 2004, the 28-year-old also made a telling contribution to Real Madrid’s 2007 championship win. Nevertheless, his spells at both Highbury and the Bernabeu were not without their low points.
His subsequent arrival at Atleti also proved to be problematic, the Rojiblanco faithful refusing to forgive him his liaison with their rivals across the Spanish capital. Packing his bags once more, Reyes linked up with Quique Sanchez Flores for a season at Benfica, gradually regaining his form and confidence under the Spanish coach and earning a return to the Vicente Calderon.
Charting an upward curve ever since, the left-sided Spaniard has won over the fans who once booed him, proving an essential part of the side that won the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup in 2010. Now into his fourth season with Los Colchoneros, Reyes is back in his favoured No10 shirt and anxious to extend his stay at the club.
Discussing that goal and many others, including a Spain recall, the experienced Reyes spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Jose Antonio, you’ve been around for a long time but you’re still only 28 and very much in your prime.
Jose Antonio Reyes: Yes, I’m still young. Everyone thinks I’m older than I actually am, but I’m at an age when players are supposed to be at their peak and I feel great. I’ve been around a bit now, and at the age of 28 I’ve had a long career already. I’ve made a few moves but hopefully I can settle for good at Atleti and finish my career here. I’m happy where I am and very much at ease, so there’s no reason why I should want to go anywhere else. When you’re happy in a team, as I am here, then there’s nothing else to think about.
You’re into your fourth season at Atletico Madrid, and you’ll have even more responsibility now that some of the team’s star players have left. Do you think you can meet the fans’ high expectations?
We’re a team and we all work for each other. The fans should have the same expectations of all us, although if they expect more of me than others then it’s no real burden for me. As a player you like to be pushed because it’s a sign that you can give even more. The fact is I like it when people demand more from me. There have been a lot of changes at the club this year but there’s a good feeling in the air. We’ve had new players come in, the atmosphere’s great and the team’s looking good too. That’s important.
If Del Bosque feels he has to call me, then that’ll be great... There isn’t a Spanish player who doesn’t want to play for his country.
It’s been a difficult summer, with rumours aplenty and key players leaving. How did the dressing room react to the departures of Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan?
They were very important for Atleti, but players come and go in every team, with the ones arriving just as or even more important than the ones leaving. Kun and Forlan brought a lot of joy to the fans and all you can do is wish them the very best. What we have to do now, though, is focus on the players who’ve come in.
What’s your view on the current debate about the Spanish league being a two-horse race only, and where do you think Atletico fit into it all?
Barcelona and Real Madrid are two very powerful clubs who can sign anyone they want, which makes it virtually impossible to compete with them. The league’s between those two and the rest of us are fighting it out among ourselves. I think Atleti’s league, like everyone else’s, starts with third place, which means we should be going for a Champions League place at least.
As someone with experience of the English, Spanish and Portuguese league, which do you think is the best?
The Spanish league, without a doubt. The English league’s good to play in because the game’s played at pace and rarely stops, and referees only blow for obvious fouls. There’s more quality and possession football in the Spanish league, though, and the Portuguese championship is also good to watch, even if the level’s lower than in the other two.
You made your debut with Sevilla at the age of 17 and left not long afterwards for Arsenal, where things didn’t quite work out for you. Looking back, what went wrong?
Well, I wouldn’t say things went wrong. I left the club on a positive note. I arrived at Arsenal when I was 20 and won five or six trophies with them, so it didn’t go that badly. Maybe I didn’t manage to settle as well as I would have liked but everything else went well for me. I went there to win titles and I won them. In fact, I was the first Spanish player to win the Premier League.
You had your ups and downs since bursting on to the scene, but you’ve hit top form again. How have you turned things around?
It’s not exactly a turnaround or a different mindset. It’s more to do with the confidence that a coach can give you. When you get that confidence everything changes, and there’s no more important feeling than that when you’re on the pitch. Everything starts to come off for you, and no one’s given me more confidence than Quique Sanchez Flores (his coach at Benfica and Atletico Madrid). I’m getting the same vibe now with [Gregorio] Manzano.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has said he’s keeping an eye on you. How confident are you of resuming your international career?
I’ve never been in better shape physically or mentally and that’s what counts. If Del Bosque feels he has to call me, then that’ll be great, and if he doesn’t, then I’m going to carry on working with my team so that I get that call one day. Obviously I’d love him to bring me in, especially with the form I’m in and the team doing so well. There isn’t a Spanish player who doesn’t want to play for his country.