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Can Reyes win over the Atletico boo-boys?
Jose Antonio Reyes has some work to do to win over Atletico Madrid’s hardcore fans judging by the reception he received on Tuesday, when he came on as a late substitute at the Calderon in their 2-0 Champions League play-off win over Panathinaikos.
The tie was already over by the time Reyes was called up to replace Simao with four minutes left — Atletico won the away leg 3-2 — but he was met with a barrage of whistles from around the stadium.
“Reyes! Fuera del Calderon!” (Reyes! Leave the Calderon!) was the chant that came up from Atletico’s radical ‘Frente’ fans behind the goal opposite where I was sitting.
Spanish media also reported fans shouting “Reyes! Hijo de Puta! Muerete!” (Reyes! Son of a whore! Die!) and other abuse.
His first touch was understandably tentative, though a surging run soon after had some fans around me standing and applauding, while others continued to whistle.
Why this treatment? Well he was bought from city rivals Real Madrid after helping them win the Primera Liga title in 2007.
His presentation in the Calderon, which I also attended, saw some fans shouting abuse at him then. He did little to win them over that first season making 26 league appearances, failing to score, and complaining about not being in the starting XI enough.
Reyes played last year on loan with Benfica, but the Portuguese side failed to come up with the money to make the move permanent, so with no other interesting offers on the table, the former Arsenal man is back in Madrid.
After Tuesday’s game, his new coach Abel Resino defended him: “It’s the start of the season and we are going to try to change all this. Reyes is an Atletico player, he works hard, and we will try to help him make his peace with the fans.”
Reyes, who turns 26 next week, is clearly a talented player and has shown that at Sevilla, Arsenal and Real Madrid, albeit inconsistently.
Atletico season-ticket holders I spoke to after the game agreed the treatment he received was harsh, and that with the shortage of creative talent in the side’s midfield it was crucial to have a player like Reyes on board.
The club need him but the only way he will win over doubters is with some strong performances. It remains to be seen whether he has the maturity to ride out the abuse and put in the hard graft necessary.
PHOTO: Jose Reyes (L) fights for the ball while at Benfica, April 19, 2009. REUTERS/Hugo Correia