Atlético winger José Antonio Reyes hasn’t fully stepped up to the challenge of taking the reins of the squad as fans expected him to prior to the start of the 2011/12 campaign.
Speaking to AS journalists Dani Hidalgo and S. Del Estal, ‘La Perla’ offered his insight on the current season so far, on adapting to a new system and on his compatibility with his new team-mates.
“We’ve changed a lot of players, and footballers that were very important to us have left and that’s noticeable on the field,” said Reyes.
“But I see us doing very good.”
On his relationship with new coach Gregorio Manzano, Reyes said, “I am very pleased and very comfortable with him.”
Asked about former manager Quique Sanchez Flores, who is widely credited for Reyes’ return to top form, the 28-year-old responded: “He’s a coach that has brought me much joy and I am grateful to him for everything he has done for me, but Manzano is here now.”
“But didn’t you have a special relationship with Quique?” his interviewer asked.
“Yes,” said Reyes. “Every once in a while we see each other because we live closely, but other than that we don’t have more contact.”
Though José Antonio is the only Atleti player to have taken part in every single game so far this season, he has yet to land an indisputable starting gig in Manzano’s new system.
“I am among the ones that is coming in and out the most,”said Reyes.
“But we’ve only played a few games and the situation doesn’t call for criticising anyone. We are a team and if [Manzano] is rotating, his decision must be respected.
“I understand that everyone has to play, but a footballer always wants to play. I can’t deny that it’s something that annoys me, but I get upset with myself, not with others.”
La Perla was a key figure of our 4-4-2 setup the past two seasons but is having trouble readjusting his game to fit neatly into the 4-3-3 formation implemented by Manzano.
“It’s a system that has required some adapting to,” Reyes said.
“It’s been some months now with it and I think that we are doing better each day.”
The Sevilla youth system product spoke very candidly about the new make-up of our attack this year.
“The changes on this team have been very important ones,” he said.
“We hope that Falcao, who is doing a good job, will continue to do so. He’ll never make us forget Kun, because each player has his own characteristics and almost no one has the mobility of Agüero.
“Falcao is our forward and he will help us a lot.”
Reyes was then asked if he thinks our defensive system is the best one he’s seen at Atleti.
“The defence is doing very well and that’s important for those of us attackers,” he responded.
“In this first part of the season we are not having much luck in front of the goal, but we create chances and the goals will come soon.
“The pieces are starting to come together. Rhythm isn’t found on the first or second day. With work we are gaining the form the coach wants.”
The former Arsenal man, whose extraordinary performances have apparently gone unnoticed by Spanish national team head coach Vicente del Bosque, assures his interviewers he is no longer concerned about returning to La Roja.
“The first thing is to play with my club and if the call arrives, let it arrive, but I don’t obsess over those things anymore,” he said.
Asked if he has lost hope of ever donning the Spanish shirt again, Reyes replied: “No, never.”
He continued: “At any moment, that call might come and I will wait for it with more desire than anyone. Meanwhile, all I can do is wait and keep working hard.”
After putting together a string of three impressive shutout victories, los Rojiblancos have since gone winless in three consecutive matches against Barcelona, Rennes and Sevilla.
“We have faced three strong teams,” said Reyes.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Barça’s 5-0 didn’t affect the team. Against Barça, on their field, anything can happen.”
The Andalusian then talked about the team’s aspirations for this season.
“We’re going to go step-by-step and depending on our trajectory we’ll determine our objectives,” he said.
“Our current goal is to finish in the top four.”
When Agüero and Diego Forlán left this past summer, the spotlight was aimed squarely on Reyes to take charge of the squad.
In a symbolic acceptance of this new mission, the man from Utrera switched jerseys from number 19 to the weightier number 10 shirt.
“When there are high expectations of a player, it’s because the player can meet those expectations,” Reyes said.
“I’m motivated by high expectations of me.”
About his interaction with his new team-mates, Reyes said, “It’s going great. The truth is they are delightful people that want to help.”
Last season’s headlines often revolved around the highly-publicised feud between Forlán and Quique Sanchez Flores, and there were even claims of factions within the Colchonero dressing room.
Reyes denied rumours of divisions among members of the team.
“There’s always been a good atmosphere in the locker room at Atlético since I’ve been here,” he assured.
“There has never been a bad atmosphere. There has been some give and take between one person or another, but right now everything is fine and peaceful.”
How do you feel about Reyes’ performance this season? Do you think he will eventually fully adapt to Manzano’s system?