Villarreal's Alberto Moreno recalls shock of losing Jose Antonio Reyes
‘All I did was cry like a little boy’: Ex-Liverpool star Alberto Moreno on the pain of Jose Antonio Reyes’ death, his old team-mates supporting Villarreal for the Europa League final against Man United… and how Unai Emery compares to Jurgen Klopp
- Alberto Moreno was close to Jose Antonio Reyes from their days at Sevilla
- Reyes died in a car crash as Moreno was preparing for Champions League final
- ‘I didn’t eat anything all day. All I did was cry like a little boy,’ he says
- Moreno is looking to win a third European trophy when his side meet Man United
- He said ‘the whole of Liverpool will be behind Villarreal’ against the Red Devils
The last time Alberto Moreno was at a European final, he finished the night celebrating Liverpool winning the Champions League while still in tears over close friend Jose Antonio Reyes who had died earlier the same day.
The Villarreal defender, who faces Manchester United in Wednesday’s Europa League final, is a joker; sharp and funny. He cracks up over the extremes Unai Emery goes to in preparing for matches, and teases former Liverpool team-mates over Alisson Becker’s recent goal.
He also lets off some steam over feeling scapegoated for Liverpool’s defeat by Sevilla in the 2016 Europa League final. But the events of the 2019 Champions League final in Madrid still leave him cold.
Alberto Moreno (L) won the 2014 Europa League with Sevilla alongside Jose Antonio Reyes (R)
Reyes was killed in a car crash on morning of Liverpool’s Champions League final win in 2019
Moreno lifted the Champions League with Liverpool and is targeting a third European trophy
Rubbing his face and struggling to find the right words he recalls the horror of seeing the news that former Sevilla team-mate Reyes had died in a car accident aged 35, the morning of the game.
‘You go down to have breakfast and you’re only thinking about the final,’ he says. ‘And you see that news. I didn’t eat anything all day. All I did was cry like a little boy.’
The news about Reyes’ accident was on all the Spanish television channels in the team hotel.
‘(Liverpool coach Jurgen) Klopp spoke to me once he realised how close I had been to Reyes,’ Moreno says. ‘He offered his condolences and he asked me if I was able to face the final.’
Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-0 and unused sub Moreno put on a t-shirt carrying the words ‘I love you brother’ under a picture of him celebrating winning the 2014 Europa League with Reyes.
Moreno called Unai Emery (right) the best coach he’s had, along with Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp
That happy memory was also Moreno’s last game for Sevilla before, aged 22, he joined Liverpool for £12million.
‘I wouldn’t change those five years I had in Liverpool for anything,’ he says.
Moreno is still in contact with Roberto Firmino, Fabinho and Alisson. After the keeper’s brilliant, glancing header against West Brom he messaged him: ‘Brother that was a lot better than Salah, Firmino and Mane!’
And he received a message from Fabinho when Villarreal made it to the final against United: ‘On May 25 I’m a Villarreal fan to the death,’ it read. Grinning and punching the air, Moreno adds: ‘I think the whole of Liverpool will be behind Villarreal.’
Injuries have prevented Moreno fulfilling his promise but he’s not bitter.
‘I was at Sevilla and we reached a Europa League final. I went to Liverpool and we reached a Europa League final. And I have come to Villarreal and we have reached a Europa League final,’ he laughs. ‘The next team I join I ought to put it in the contract.’
Emery was his coach when he won the Europa League with Sevilla. He was also coach of the Sevilla team that beat Liverpool.
‘There are times when he throws that back at me,’ Moreno says. ‘He’ll say: “Alberto when you were at Liverpool we (Sevilla) really stuck it to them that night”.
‘He likes to remind me every now and then about how he put Coke and Mariano on my flank just so that I couldn’t bomb up and down the wing.
Klopp (right) consoled Moreno when he learned how close he had been to Reyes
Reyes celebrates winning the Europa League with Sevilla. He was tragically killed aged 35
‘Emery along with Klopp has been the best coach I’ve had. He gave me the chance to debut with Sevilla even though I was just a kid from the youth system.’
The Villarreal coach with the job of out-thinking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains, says Moreno, as intense as ever.
‘I always say that it’s better that way. We all moan at another video being put on but the fact is, you then go out on the pitch and you do things well because you have had that hour watching the rivals play.
‘He knows everything; even to the point of knowing how many children each of us have! He’ll have done the research on United so by kick-off time we’ll know how many children their players have too!’
There is praise for Klopp as well. ‘He knows how to squeeze the very best out of you,’ he says of the manager who picked him to start that 2016 Europa League final.
Moreno lifted the 2014 Europa League final with Sevilla after beating Benfica on penalties
It riles him that, nutmegged by Mariano for the Sevilla equaliser, he was largely blamed for the 3-1 defeat.
‘I get that the first goal they put the ball through my legs,’ he says. ‘But I’m a defender it can happen. I have been criticised so much for that goal and I think on the basis of that I went a whole year without playing.’
Should Klopp have defended him more?
‘My relationship with him was always perfect, playing and not playing but if he had protected me he would have kept faith in me. I don’t know if that came from Klopp or from the club.
‘I still don’t understand why I received so much criticism from that game when the team as a whole, I don’t think played well.
Moreno celebrates knocking Arsenal out to book Villarreal’s place in the final in Gdansk
‘Pointing the finger at one player – it was like I had lost the final.’
After a year of James Milner playing ahead of Moreno, he did win his place back in Klopp’s starting XI and got back in the Spain squad but then an ankle injury kept him out for three months.
‘That was when [Andy] Robertson had his opportunity and he’s good,’ Moreno says clapping his hands once for emphasis. ‘From that moment on I never had more chances.’
Moreno had more bad luck with injury when he tore his cruciate after joining Villarreal and was sidelined for six months, not returning until March this year.
Fabinho (centre) told Moreno he’d be a Villarreal fan for European final against Man United
‘I remember something my father always said to me whenever I was downhearted as a kid if I wasn’t in the team: Alberto there is something worse than not being picked: being injured. You have not been called up, but you are training with your team-mates, and the next game you can get called up. You are doing what you love to do. When you are injured you can’t do anything. He was right.’
On Wednesday Moreno won’t start but he will be the voice of experience in a dressing room that has never played a European final.
‘For some of my team-mates it still has not sunk in just what we have achieved,’ he says.
Maybe the pressure is off and the club from the tiny Spanish town of just over 50,000 should be just pleased to be in Gdansk?
‘We’ve made history but once you’re there, it’s the thought of winning it against Manchester United, who have a brilliant team,’ he says.
‘We are going to give it everything to win this marvelous trophy that the whole town want us to take back with us.
‘I’ve already told a couple of team-mates: I hope we win it just so you can feel how heavy it is. The European Cup is heavy but this is a seriously big lump of silver.
‘I wanted to win this for Liverpool [in 2016]. This is my third Europa League final and hopefully we can win it. The fact that it’s against United will make it even better.’
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