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Football: REY GONE; Wenger: I fear Jose's love for Real Madrid will drive him away.

Byline: JOHN CROSS

ARSENAL boss Arsene Wenger last night admitted Jose Antonio Reyes still wants to join Real Madrid - but warned he will battle to keep his pounds 17million record signing.

Spanish striker Reyes, 21, was tricked by a Spanish radio hoaxer into revealing he wants to leave Arsenal and play for Real Madrid. Reyes bounced back after the controversy by scoring his first Premiership goal in four months and setting up two more in Arsenal's 5-1 win over Crystal

Palace on Monday. But Wenger still concedes it will be difficult to keep Reyes as he has always harboured a burning ambition to play for his boyhood heroes Real Madrid.

"I understand perfectly Reyes said he wants to play for Madrid, but I don't like the way the information was gleaned from him," said Wenger.

"But he's an Arsenal player, we backed him when we saw him at Seville and saw his ability as a player."

Real have distanced themselves from the hoax, which tricked Reyes into thinking he was talking to the Spanish club's director of football Emilio Butragueno.

Reyes, who joined from Seville 13 months ago, has struggled to settle in London and was even allowed permission to return to Spain before Christmas to sort out some personal problems.

But Wenger maintains they can keep Reyes happy. "Ever since he was little, he has always watched Spanish football and that's where his admiration for Real Madrid comes from.

"I am annoyed at the way the radio station used him and I am not disappointed to hear what he said because it is normal that Real Madrid was the team of his dreams when he was growing up.

"When you give your confidence to somebody and it is abused then it is very bad but he gave the best response on the pitch on Monday night.

"I like him a lot and I think that he will be a fantastic player here."

CAPTION(S):

WENGER: Battle; REYES: Keen to return home
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Feb 17, 2005
Words:332
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