Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina appears set to leave Anfield this summer to join Napoli on a season-long loan. The 30-year-old will re-unite with Spanish compatriot Rafael Benitez, the manager who brought him to Merseyside in 2005 where he immediately succeeded Istanbul hero Jerzy Dudek.
Pepe had plied his trade at Barcelona, but caught the attention of Benitez whilst on loan to Villarreal where he had earned himself a reputation for his exceptional distribution and his ability to save penalties. Upon his arrival at Anfield, Rafa hailed him as “the best goalkeeper in Spain” after he had spent £6 million in order to secure his move to Merseyside.
The Spaniard born in Madrid has since been an ever-present in the Liverpool side, maintaining his position in the starting line-up for eight years and solidifying himself as one of the most reliable keepers the Premier League has ever seen.
Reina has kept an outstanding 134 clean sheets in 285 league appearances for the Reds and 177 clean sheets in 395 appearances in all competitions, and won the Golden Glove award for three years in a row in the Premier League from 2005-06 to 2007-08.
The shot-stopper also holds the record for the fewest goals conceded by a keeper in their first 50 games beating previous record holder Ray Clemence as the No.25 conceded just 29, while he was the fastest to record 100 clean sheets in the club’s history.
This has not prevented him losing favour under manager Brendan Rodgers however, as several errors throughout the 2012-13 season and a steady decline in form over recent years has caused the Reds boss to recruit his replacement. Reina’s dip in form not to discount his quality though as he was second only to Joe Hart in the clean sheets table last season, as he concluded the season with a respectable tally of 14 from 2790 minutes played.
In fact, an underlying reason for Pepe’s departure may actually be the outstanding form he showed at the beginning of his Anfield career. This could be returning to haunt him as having consistently performed brilliantly beforehand for Liverpool means that his “below-par” form of late has been increasingly scrutinised, perhaps unfairly by supporters.
The recent arrival of Simon Mignolet for a fee of £9 million from Sunderland had put Reina’s starting spot in jeopardy and many challenged whether the Belgian had truly been brought in for “competition” as Rodgers told the press. Considering Liverpool’s financial position, the question arose as to whether they really have the finances to afford to have two world-class keepers competing for a place in the starting line-up.
Reina is an amicable character and his experience will be missed hugely in the dressing room amongst the fresh faces. However, Rodgers' decision to elect Mignolet as his No.1 will exemplify to him the confidence and belief that his manager has in him, which will surely spur him on to reproduce the form he showed last season which inspired the Northern Irish boss to sign him.
In addition, whilst Reina’s experience is unquestionable it has arguably had little effect in previous attempts to revive the team following the club’s slump in the past few years. Reina's confidence seemed low last season following lapses of concentration away at Manchester City and others errors such as against Hearts at home in the Europa League. Perhaps replacing him with a younger and potentially more-promising keeper could prove to have a positive effect, in contrast to what many Liverpool supporters may apprehend.
Statistically, Mignolet was superior to Reina last season. Mignolet outperformed Reina in all forms except clean sheets, in which Mignolet had only 11 compared to Reina’s 14. This can be condoned and almost expected given the fact Mignolet had a back four consisting of John O’Shea and Titus Bramble helping protect his goal, whilst Reina had defenders of a more desirable standard.
Brendan Rodgers confirmed the decision for Reina’s season-long loan was fuelled by a need to help lower the club’s wage bill.
“Financially it was something we needed to look at” he told Sky Sports.
“That would be the reason (to move on Reina) as you wouldn’t move on a top goalkeeper. It (the situation) reared its head over the last couple of months and I had to prepare by bringing in a new keeper.”
Reina is on extortionate wages reported to be £110,000-a-week, a huge amount as Rodgers and Fenway Sports Group attempt to trim the club's wages to as minimal as possible. In contrast, new signing Mignolet is likely to be on wages half of that, yet has the same capabilities as Reina on the pitch.
The situation has caused much confusion amongst fans on social networking sites who ponder, “Why don’t we just sell Reina?” amidst another minority who consider the club’s treatment of the Spaniard deplorable. The truth is quite the contrary, as by loaning Reina to Napoli, Liverpool are doing both themselves and the player a favour.
Some have argued that loaning him out for a year will result in Reina’s potential fee decreasing, ignoring that a season on the side lines would depreciate his demanded fee further. “So why don’t we just sell him to Barcelona this summer then?” some further inquire.
Well, Liverpool had initially considered Mignolet as his replacement when it looked increasingly likely that Reina would complete a move to Barcelona. Suddenly though, Barca keeper Victor Valdes opted to stay another year, so Reina’s return was forcibly delayed. Nevertheless, Liverpool had already decided to push through a deal for the 25-year-old Belgian keeper under the impression Reina’s Liverpool stay was soon to be over. Therefore Liverpool cannot exactly be blamed for pushing the keeper out of the club, instead they acted so that they are prepared for any situation can be easily resolved.
Another justification for the loan move comes in the form of the players' international careers. As the 2014 World Cup rapidly approaches, both Reina and Mignolet will want to be fighting for their right to represent their country in Brazil.
If they were both competing in the same team for one spot for 40-50 possible games in all competitions, whilst it would encourage them to perform at their highest level, it would also potentially hamper the probability of each keeper being chosen as number one for their country as their national teams unlikely to choose a keeper who has featured sporadically for their club.
One issue Reina’s loan could present however is that should Mignolet become injured or suffer a severe loss of form in Reina's absence, then Liverpool will be left to rely on Australian keeper Brad Jones. Having only made eight league appearances for the Reds, some have doubted whether Jones’ has sufficient ability to play in the Premier League and many Reds will be hoping this situation will not arise. As will gaffer Rodgers who could face serious interrogation from supporters and the media alike should it do so.
It is a credit to the man's character that Reina only ever courted with leaving when the opportunity of playing for Barcelona, a club he has strong ties with, seemed likely. He has been an incredibly loyal and consistent player for Liverpool and is a fantastic asset for any football club.
The decision to loan him out suggests that the club will wait for Valdes to leave so that Reina can secure his dream move to the Catalan giants, this would mean that his appearance against QPR on the 19th of May 2013 could be remembered in history not only as Jamie Carragher’s last ever Liverpool game, but also as Reina’s.
On behalf of Kopites across the country, the continent and the globe, farewell and good luck Pepe. Thanks for the memories.
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