Perception vs. Reality – On Pepe Reina Leaving Liverpool

To the consternation of much of the red-half of Merseyside, Liverpool FC goalkeeper Pepe Reina announced that he would be taking his talents to Napoli on season-long loan.  (Okay, that’s not quite how he phrased it.)  News of Reina’s imminent move away from Anfield came abruptly while the club was in the middle of a pre-season tour in Asia.  With what seemed like little warning, one of Liverpool’s most loved players in recent history was consigned to depart without the opportunity for a proper send-off from the Anfield faithful.  Reina’s departing letter to fans indicated that he left with a bitter taste in his mouth and was frustrated at the treatment he received by the club’s management.  Certainly, Pepe Reina merited more than an abrupt announcement regarding his imminent departure on loan; but this move, whether dictated by manager Brendan Rodgers or other segments of the club’s leadership, is in keeping with the new Liverpool “project” championed by the owners in Fenway Sports Group and Rodgers himself.

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, Reina’s departure echoes the circumstances surrounding his arrival.  Liverpool had just won the Champions League title in Istanbul behind Jerzy Dudek’s penalty shootout heroics when Reina arrived from Villareal in the summer of 2005 as part of manager Rafael Benitez’s “Spanish Armada” recruitment plan.  When Dudek fell out of form, Reina snatched his opportunity with the first team and never relinquished it.  He would remain first choice from Liverpool’s similarly miraculous FA Cup win in 2006 through this past season.  Those eight years on Merseyside were among the club’s most successful in the last twenty years, though Liverpool continues to search for the Premier League crown, a title that has eluded them since 1990.

With Reina ever-present in goal, Liverpool won not only the 2006 FA Cup and 2012 Carling Cup, but reached the 2007 Champions League Final, the 2008 semi-finals, the 2011 FA Cup Final.  Not since the glory days of the 1980s were Liverpool such a consistent fixture in the latter stages of Europe’s top club competition, and Reina’s form in goal was a significant part of those accomplishments, especially given the frequency with which Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres found themselves out of the lineup and on the training table.  He holds the record of fastest to reach 100 clean sheets (or shut-outs – 198 games) and his position as third-choice captain behind Liverpool legends Gerrard and Jamie Carragher speak volumes about Reina’s stature as a member of Liverpool FC.

Although Reina has accomplished much in his eight seasons at Liverpool, there is little argument that his star has fallen over the last couple of campaigns; howlers on opening day against Arsenal in 2011 and later against Newcastle immediately come to mind.  This is not to disparage a rightly beloved figure who is quite rightly universally admired by teammates and fans, but simply to point out that it is understandable that Liverpool (and Fenway Sports Group) would be looking into reinforcements for the goalkeeping position, particularly given Reina’s wage packet which is reportedly in excess of 100,000 pounds per week.  With a total absence of European football this season, there is (presumably) little need for goalkeeper rotation, barring loss-of-form or injury.

Simon Mignolet’s arrival from Sunderland no doubt indicated that Reina’s status at Liverpool was unsettled.  Initially, Brendan Rodgers stated that he envisioned both Reina and Mignolet sharing time between the sticks.  Apparently, many fans believed Rodgers when he said this, because that would explain the surprise and frustration with which the news of Reina’s ultimate departure was met.  Though Rodgers can fairly be accused of talking out of both sides of his mouth at present, it almost defies credulity to think that Liverpool, newly-accepting of their decreasing financial and recruiting clout throughout Europe, could or would dedicate not only Reina’s wages but also the 9 million pound transfer fee paid to Sunderland and Mignolet’s weekly wages to the starting goalkeeper position this season.  Moreover, with the World Cup next summer, and Mignolet clearly Belgium’s number one and Reina an ever present backup in Spanish squads behind Iker Casillas, is it really reasonable to think either one would happily consent to rotating in light of next summer’s tournament?  (I don’t have a way to make rhetorical questions obvious in print medium, so there’s your clue.)  That Reina was ultimately shuttled to Naples to rekindle his relationship with former manager Rafael Benitez should have come as no surprise.

In short, without European football (and no, the Europa League does not count even when LFC are in it) and with the adjustments inherent to the development of FSG’s and Rodger’s “project,” news of Mignolet’s arrival from Sunderland foretold Pepe Reina’s imminent departure from Anfield.  Although the club would have been well-served to exercise more transparency in their public announcements on the subject, the inner machinations of the club always dictated that Reina would be a target of wage-bill reduction as long as European nights continue to elude Liverpool.  Frankly, although he deserved more in departing the club, Reina’s loan to Napoli is demonstrative of the implementation of Rodgers’s “project” at Anfield.  Hopefully, neither Rodgers nor the Liverpool faithful have regrets come next May.

From the Flyover Consultant

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One thought on “Perception vs. Reality – On Pepe Reina Leaving Liverpool

  1. Mom says:

    Do European players often write letters like that to fans? I’m not sure many American athletes could write a short paragraph, much less a lengthy letter like that.

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