Pepe Reina’s exit sees final Rafael Benítez general leave Liverpool
Pepe Reina's imminent move to Napoli sees the final general of the Rafael Benítez era depart Liverpool, writes Kieran Beckles
Pepe Reina’s imminent move to Napoli will see the final general of Rafael Benítez’s Liverpool side depart Anfield. The goalkeeper leaves behind an era which came close to history but failed at the final step.
It’s no surprise Reina is on the brink of a loan switch after current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers made a surprise swoop for Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet last month, spending £9m to acquire the Belgium international.
Initially, the Northern Irishman insisted that the 25-year-old was signed to provide real competition for the number one spot at Anfield, but even the most gullible of Liverpool supporters will have seen through Rodgers’ transparent words.
Reina was never going to play second fiddle to a goalkeeper with just two years of Premier League experience, and the five-time European champions were never going to pay the Spaniard £100,000-a-week to warm the bench. The tale always ended with the Spaniard leaving this summer.
In a twist of fate, the 30-year-old is set to be reunited with his former manager Benítez in Naples, as well as his valued goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, who is credited with helping Reina become one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers.
Reina was part of Benítez’s Liverpool side which alongside Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard, was on the brink of conquering Europe in 2007, but the goalkeeper was unable to prevent a 2-1 loss to AC Milan in the Champions League final in Athens.
Later, Fernando Torres joined for a then club-record £22m, and Liverpool came closer than any other Reds side since the class of 1990 to winning England’s top-flight title, missing out by an agonising four points to Manchester United.
All but Gerrard and Reina have since departed, with the shot-stopper the last of the Spaniard’s key Reds signings and cornerstones of that impressive side.
Reina, who moved to Merseyside in a £6m deal from Villarreal in 2005, doesn’t leave trophyless.
The son of former Atletico Madrid and Barcelona legend Jose Manuel Reina made two glaring mistakes in the 2006 FA Cup final but made amends in the penalty shootout as he saved two spot-kicks to help Liverpool beat West Ham United.
Reina grew in stature following his debut season in the Premier League, picking up the Golden Glove award in 2006, 2007 and 2008 for the most-clean sheets in the English top-flight, and the Spanish stopper was generally regarded as one of the best in the league.
However, Reina was unable to push Liverpool towards that final step and end their long wait to win England’s top prize, and Benítez’s departure coincided with Reina suffering his first notable dip in form. Arguably, he only rediscovered a really high level of consistency in the second half of the 2012-13 campaign.
Rodgers continues to mould his current crop of players into top-four contenders with some subtle additions, and while Reina’s departure is a surprise, the Reds boss is persevering with his rejuvenation of Liverpool’s squad – and Mignolet will only improve.
The Spaniard leaves the Merseyside outfit as one of the club’s most popular goalkeepers, but like Benítez’s Premier League runners-up in 2009, who failed to emulate great sides of the 1970s and 1980s, Reina will fall just short in Reds history books of illustrious title-winning shot-stoppers, such as Ray Clemence and Bruce Grobbelear.