Jose Antonio Reyes is preparing for Wednesday's Champions' League final against Barcelona with a feeling of contentment for the first time since his £10.5m move from Seville in January 2004.
After a long settling-in period - which included the embarrassing moment when a Spanish radio station caught him saying he wanted to return to Spain, and Real Madrid in particular - the 22-year-old winger thanked his team-mates and family for helping him to get to grips with the English way of life. If he had stayed at Seville he might have been lifting the Uefa Cup last week at Middlesbrough's expense. Instead, he is here at Arsenal's training ground, talking about being a part of the Champions' League final.
"I have to admit at the beginning of my stay in England I struggled and I did think about leaving but now, with the help of my colleagues and family, I'm very happy here," Reyes said. "They were telling me that England is not a bad place and that I shouldn't be embarrassed about not speaking English because it does not decide my happiness."
No, football does and Reyes is in excellent form in the Champions' League and is looking forward to facing a team from his native country for the third time in the competition.
"We are very happy [with our Champions' League form] - not just me but the whole team," he said. "I am happy because we played against Real Madrid and we managed to win and we played against Villarreal and win, so everything's going according to plan. Let's hope the winning streak continues."
Unlike most Arsenal players, Reyes is familiar with the Catalan club, having played four games against them with Seville. "Barcelona has always been a great team and it's always been a team I've respected. They have reached another level in terms of ability, playing very attractive football.
"I have quite a few good friends in the national team from Barcelona like Xavi, [Carles] Puyol and [Andres] Iniesta," he said.
"I've had a good experience against them when I was playing for Seville three years ago. We lost one, had two draws and won once."
Reyes is one of the few current Arsenal players to have scored against Barça. In September 2003 he converted for Seville with an eighth-minute penalty.
However, he also recalls the scorer of Barcelona's equaliser at the Nou Camp that day: Ronaldinho. The Brazil forward was finding his £21m feet at Barça, having chosen Spain over Manchester United as his next stop after Paris St-Germain, and that goal was his first for the club. "I played the first year that Ronaldinho arrived at Barcelona. The score was 1-1, he scored one goal and I scored the other," Reyes said.
There is a clear nod of respect from the Spaniard when the Brazilian's name is mentioned. "Ronaldinho is very, very, good. He is very strong, very quick and one of the best players in the world, alongside Thierry Henry," Reyes said.
Watching his "hometown" club win the Uefa Cup will definitely be spurring him on. On Thursday Reyes sent congratulatory text messages to his former team-mates; a week later he hopes they will be sending some back.Reuse content