Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina continued his terrible start to the season with a third game-changing mistake which subsequently led to a goal in as many games in just over a week. With that in mind, should the club seriously be looking at replacing the 30-year-old Spanish international? Is he merely trading off his reputation now.
Firstly, let’s just say that this isn’t the Reina that we all have become accustomed to seeing over the years. Since arriving at Liverpool from Villarreal back in 2005, he went on to win the Golden Gloves award for most clean sheets in a season for three years running between 2006-08 and even if Rafael Benitez’s final season at the club, where the side finished a disappointing seventh in the league, he managed to keep 17 clean sheets in the league on his way to becoming the club’s Player of the Season. In short, he was not always this bad.
But ‘bad’ is really the only word you can use to describe him these days. When was the last time that he managed to pull off a save that impressed? He’s developed a worrying penchant for simply not diving for powerful shots aimed at goal, seemingly rooted to the spot rather than attempting to get anywhere near the effort on goal.
Against Manchester City, the way he flapped on the cross that led to Yaya Toure’s equaliser had many proclaiming that a lack of aerial ability has been a long-term problem of Reina’s, which to my knowledge at least, is a complete fallacy. At just over 6ft 2′ and with a heavy set frame, he’s never been bullied in his area and that mistake aside, it’s never been a weakness that’s been exploited that much, with English goalkeepers preferring to punch the ball out rather than catch it these days, with Joe Hart a prime example.
However, his shot-stopping ability, or rather lack thereof has become a major concern, whether he’s just too built or simply not agile enough, there’s not a lot that he seems to actually get to these days – a goalkeeper that doesn’t actually save all that much isn’t much use to anybody.
The most common theory that’s been thrown around is that he’s grown complacent due to a lack of competition over the years, which has included the likes of Brad Jones, Diego Cavalieri, Charles Itandje, Doni and Jerzy Dudek. The problem is that Reina knows, even if he makes these huge clangers, that he’s likely to be straight back in the starting line-up the following week. The lack of competition from these globe-trotting career number two’s simply doesn’t threaten his position at all, there is no competition for places whatsoever, rather an established hierarchy and pecking order, with Reina the undisputed number one.
There’s also the argument that the team’s decline has left him more exposed, a similar claim that can be made of Petr Cech’s own decline at Chelsea. The shift from being an established European outfit with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Sami Hyypia ahead of you to merely a top eight side has seen the decrease in quality throughout the side as they’ve lost the ability to dictate the tempo against the opposition, although this would then point to an alarming lack of concentration then on Reina’s part.
The final theory is that Reina has apparently been unhappy with the coaching methods that he’s been on the receiving end of at the club under the likes of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish. Reina saved 69% of the shots he faced in the league last season, which is also the average across the board in the top flight, which is down from his average across his eight-year association at the club of 78%.
Reina flourished in his first few seasons under goalkeeping coach Jose Ochoterana between 2005-7 and then Xavi Valero between 2007-10 when Benitez left the club. His performances under both Mike Kelly for a short period and now American coach John Achterberg has simply not been up to scratch and he average well under 70% shots to saves ratio under their tutelage.
The club were linked with a move for Wolves number two Dorus De Vries during the transfer window just gone, as they had an offer of £500k turned down (exposing the lack of funds around the club at the same time), but given that he had been Swansea’s established number one under Brendan Rodgers during their promotion campaign, there’s at least some belief that he may have genuinely challenged him for the right to start, given the high regard that he’s held in by the new boss.
Having just turned 30 years of age, this season represents a pivotal point in Reina’s Liverpool career; the dip in form has become a slide and it needs to be arrested soon otherwise there can be no going back. At the moment, a once world-class goalkeeper looks completely shorn of any confidence that he may have once had, even in a more ball-playing sweeper role similar to the one that he flourished in under Benitez.
He’s an absolute liability right now and given the club’s strict budget, he remains one of their only valuable assets that they could potentially sell on at a reasonably large price. He’s guaranteed to stay between the sticks until the end of the season, but the cut-throat nature of the game surely dictates that you can’t deliver poor performances under three different managers over the space of three different seasons and expect to stay at the club. Without trying to sound too overly dramatic, his future certainly hangs in the balance and it’s a make or break season for him now.
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