With Pepe Reina’s season-long loan move to Napoli now confirmed, all the talk about having two top goalkeepers competing for the first-team spot at Liverpool have been rested.
Reina’s departure had become imminent the moment Simon Mignolet completed his move to Liverpool from Sunderland. Only the extremely hopeful or naïve would have believed Rodgers when he said that Mignolet was being brought in to provide competition to Reina, and not replace him. In an ideal scenario for Rodgers, he would have wanted both Mignolet and Reina to indeed compete for the first-team’s goalkeeper spot.
However, this is reality and more importantly in a season which is followed by the World Cup, this meant that Reina had to leave. Mignolet faces stiff competition from Thibaut Courtois for a spot in the Belgian team, while Iker Casillas’s spot in the Spanish team is probably looking more vulnerable than ever before, and Reina must fancy his chances of finally becoming country’s number one goalkeeper.
Given the situation, it was quite obvious that Mignolet would not have left his assured first-team role at Sunderland, if he wasn’t certain of the same at Liverpool.
Reina would have been sounded out about a possibility of a move by the club. After the confirmation of a vacancy at Barcelona only at the end of next season, opting for a season-long loan at Napoli is probably the best option for Reina. He will have the opportunity to play Champions League football, and will be reunited with former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, with whom he still shares an excellent rapport, and former Liverpool goalkeeping coach, Xavi Valero, who helped him become one of the best goalkeepers in the world in his early days at Liverpool.
Reina will have the option of either joining Napoli on a permanent deal next season, or filling the void which would be left by Victor Valdes at Barcelona. Or he might just return back to Liverpool, with valuable experience at Serie A and Champions League, to reclaim the number 1 goalkeeping spot that has been undisputedly his, for the last few seasons. (Most of the Anfield faithful would love to have him back at the club next season, though it looks very unlikely. He has probably played his last game for Liverpool.)
As for Liverpool, they would feel that they have signed a young and upcoming talented goalkeeper in Mignolet to replace Reina. Reina had an excellent start to his Liverpool career, winning 3 consecutive Golden Glove awards and staking claim as one of the top and most reliable goalkeepers in the world.
But his form dipped in 2010 and he has struggled to regain his former high standards. With Reina being among the club’s top wage earners, Rodgers will feel that he has done a good job by lightening the club’s wage bill and bringing in a young & talented goalkeeper, who can potentially become a new Kop favourite.
Mignolet had an impressive last season at Sunderland, and Rodgers, who clearly rates him highly, expects big things from him at Liverpool. With Reina now out of the picture, Mignolet will be the undisputed number 1 goalkeeper at the club, with Brad Jones serving as a reliable deputy.
It is ironical that Rodgers had faced a fight to retain Reina’s services last season, when he had just joined the club, with strong interest from the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona. He managed to succeed in keeping Reina at the club last year. However, it’s Rodgers now who himself admitted that he has been the brain behind Reina’s move away from the club in this transfer window.
What Liverpool ultimately decide to do with Reina at the end of 2013/14 season remains to be seen. But either way, a match-fit Reina will be better for the Liverpool team, or will command a higher transfer price, than a player who had to play second fiddle, and lacked match-fitness. Hence the decision to send him on a loan is probably the best way out for both Liverpool and Reina (and indeed Mignolet as well!)
Reina has given plenty of memorable moments to the Kop faithful, be it running across the pitch to celebrate a goal against Manchester United, or winning the penalty shootout in 2006 FA Cup final. But it is now time to move on, and give Mignolet a fair chance, who will have rather big gloves to fill at the club.