Reyes seals Real deal as Baptista opts for Arsenal

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The Independent Football

Arsenal were last night on the verge of granting Jose Antonio Reyes his wish to return to Spain, just hours before the transfer window closes at midnight tonight. He should complete a move to Real Madrid today with Brazilian Julio Baptista - plus £2m - moving in the opposite direction.

Up until yesterday, the sticking point for both clubs had been Baptista's reluctance to leave Spain but Real officials are now convinced their man is ready to swap places with the Arsenal winger.

If Baptista stands firm and the deal falls through, Arsenal will turn to Real's city rivals Atletico Madrid and accept their improved second offer.

Atletico bid £8million for Reyes last week - an offer which was described by Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, as an insult. However, they have upped that bid and the Gunners would reluctantly sell, with Atletico winger Martin Petrov a possible make-weight in the deal.

Reyes has stated repeatedly throughout the summer that he was unhappy in England and wanted a move back to Spain.

Originally his sights were set on Real Madrid but after no agreement could be reached between the two clubs, he made it clear a switch to Atletico or to his hometown club Seville would be preferable to returning to North London.

Having gambled on Reyes' precocious talent two seasons ago, Wenger was reluctant to let the player leave after less than two years in England but the constant stream of quotes attributed to the unsettled Spaniard and the opportunity to land Baptista seem to have helped to convince Wenger.

The Arsenal manager wanted the former Seville striker last summer but he opted to move to Spain instead. The player nicknamed the "Beast" at his former club having scored 50 goals in two seasons failed to settle at Real and despite picking up form in the second half of the campaign, failed to make Brazil's World Cup squad. He now finds himself out of new Real Madrid manager Fabio Capello's plans.

However, Wenger is convinced he can turn the versatile striker, who can also play in midfield, into a force in the Premiership. Providing the Brazilian gives the swap deal the final thumbs-up today, Wenger will get his chance to unleash the Beast on English defences and finally see off homesick forward Reyes.

Real Madrid officials are so desperate for the swap to go through today that they are prepared to make the deal a one-year loan with a permanent switch to follow in 2007. They are keen on two defenders - Christian Chivu of Roma and Alex of PSV but both would take up a non-EU place in their team. Real are only allowed three non-EU players in their squad and Baptista currently occupies one of those places.

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