Reyes ready to step into Bergkamp's boots at Highbury

Arsenal's newest recruit is widely regarded as the best young player to have emerged in the Spanish game since Raul
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The Independent Football

Last summer, in rejecting what was then Arsenal's third bid for the hottest property in Spanish football, Sevilla's vice-president, Jose Maria Del Nido, provided one of the quips of the year. "That kind of money wouldn't even buy his boots," he said of the £10m offer lodged by his opposite number, David Dein.

Del Nido clearly likes a joke. When Barcelona inquired about Jose Antonio Reyes, he quoted a price equivalent to £70m (the value of the buy-out clause in the 20-year-old's recently extended contract). When Real Madrid asked for first refusal they were refused, while Reyes' agent, Jesus Rodriguez, claimed that Internazionale had also been given short shrift.

Arsenal, however, were deadly serious - even if the Sevilla players were seen laughing and joking about the move as they trained yesterday before a Copa del Rey quarter-final tonight.

Arsène Wenger has tracked Reyes ever since he made his league debut, against Barcelona, aged 17, and it is as much a testament to his reputation, as to his employer's determination, that the young striker will now play in the Premiership. Indeed for such a burgeoning talent to switch from the Primera Liga to England is unheard of, although it also reveals much about the finances of Spanish football and of Sevilla, struggling in 15th place, in particular.

Whatever the reasoning, Reyes is gifted and has been described as the most exciting player to emerge in Spain since Raul. Even though he has just four caps - making his debut last year in a friendly against Portugal and featuring in the Euro 2004 play-offs against Norway - he will undoubtedly be in the Spanish squad this June. And he is a glittering member of what is shaping up to be the most exciting and youthful squads in world football alongside Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso.

Reyes , who signed for Sevilla when he was 10, started his career on the left wing, which many observers still regard as his best position. But as he grew in height he was switched - partly through necessity - into a more central striking role. He may, however, be most effective as a second, or withdrawn, striker, which would place him as a successor to Dennis Bergkamp in the Arsenal team, although Wenger has suggested he could play anywhere across the front line. His arrival will not only hasten the exit of Arsenal's old guard but also raise questions over where emerging players such as David Bentley fit in.

In a struggling Sevilla side Reyes has continued to shine, scoring eight goals and then nine (as top scorer) in the last two seasons and five so far this term. His performances have been superb, not least when he brilliantly led the rout of Real Madrid last autumn as Sevilla scored four times in the first-half. His skill - twice embarrassing Luis Figo and tormenting his marker, Francisco Pavon - was as eyecatching as the way he created the goals.

Nevertheless, the Spanish press have been divided about him. While most regard Reyes as a genius, some dismiss him as a one-trick pony (although he deployed several against Real). Outside the capital he is adored, mainly for humiliating Real, but also for conforming to every aspect of the Andalucian stereotype, playing with the grace and casual arrogance of a torero.

Born in Utrera, near Seville, he is fiercely proud of his regional roots (and enjoys the city's nightlife), which also helps explain why the club may have been keen to sell him abroad rather than to a rival. Valencia were another said to have lodged a bid (of £12m plus the striker Mista).

After a Seville derby against Real Betis, Reyes had the green and white half of the city enraged. Betis players complained their showers had been tampered with and Reyes told television interviewers: 'There was nothing wrong with their showers. They play for Betis, they are not used to having a shower!"

Two seasons ago a player, Francisco Gallardo, was castigated after appearing to sink his teeth into his team-mate's crotch by way of celebrating the latter's goal. The team-mate was Reyes. Arsenal will hope they have not bitten off more than they can chew.

JOSE ANTONIO REYES

1983: Born in Utrera, Spain, on 1 September.

1994: Joins Sevilla as a 10-year-old and works his way through the youth teams.

1998: Signs first contract with the club at 15.

2000: Makes debut aged 16 on 30 January 2000 at La Romareda against Zaragoza. Signs new contract during 1999-2000 to expire in 2008 with release clause of 36m euro (£24m).

2001: Makes first Sevilla start against Barcelona in the Primera Liga aged 17. Scores first Primera Liga goal in his second appearance in a win over Espanyol. Scores eight goals and is Sevilla's second top-scorer in his first season as Sevilla finish eighth. Plays for Spain Under-19 and Under-21 during 2001-02 season.

2002: Continues to establish himself as a real force in the top flight as Sevilla finish 10th. Ends 2002-03 as Sevilla's top-scorer with nine goals and is already linked with several high-profile clubs.

2003: First full international call-up for training camp in August. Makes international debut for Spain in September's 3-0 win over Portugal as a half-time substitute having just turned 19 before making competitive debut as a substitute in the 2-1 win over Ukraine three days later. Scores twice in a 29-minute substitute appearance in 4-0 win over Armenia in a European Championship qualifier in October and starts the 2-1 win over Norway in November.

2004: Scores five goals for Sevilla in 2003-04 season. Announces move to Arsenal on 27 January.

FOUR SPANIARDS WHO HAVE MADE THEIR MARK ON ENGLISH FOOTBALL

EMILIO ALDECOA

The first Spaniard to play in the Football League, for Coventry City from 1946. He had arrived in England as a Basque refugee in 1937 and played as a striker with Wolves in the Second World War. Switched to the wing at Highfield Road. Later, back in Spain, he was capped and won two titles with Barcelona.

ALEX CALVO-GARCIA

England's most durable and arguably most successful Spanish import. The 32-year-old midfielder joined Scunthorpe from lowly Eibar in 1996. He has since made more than 250 first-team appearances and has become a local hero, not least for scoring the Third Division play-off winner at Wembley Stadium in 1999.

ALBERT FERRER

The most capped Spaniard to play in England joined Chelsea from Barcelona in 1998. He made more than 100 appearances for them before retiring last summer. Was a member of the first all-foreign starting line-up in English league history, for Chelsea against Southampton in December 1999. Won the FA Cup in 2000.

IVAN CAMPO

Symbolic of the cast who inhabit the nouveau loan-era Premiership, the 29-year-old began his career at Bolton on a temporary deal from Real Madrid in summer 2002. The natural progression from Bernabeu to Reebok became permanent with a free transfer last summer. He has made 50 Premiership starts.

Research by Nick Harris

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