Although the long-term Anfield futures of both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are still uncertain, Liverpool fans can try and take solace in the commitment of another world-class player. Just under two months ago, Spanish custodian Pepe Reina, now widely regarded as the finest goalkeeper in the Premier League, put pen to paper on a six-year deal. Already well on his way to becoming a bona fide Kop legend, Reina’s decision to sign a new contract during the most turbulent season upon Merseyside in recent memory served to further endear the Spanish international to the Anfield faithful. Having clinched a fourth ‘Golden Glove’ award in five seasons in England, Reina’s status amongst Liverpool fans was visibly cemented having been voted the club’s Player of the Year (with a whopping 75% of the total votes).
Stellar form aside, Reina’s landslide victory in the club’s Player of the Year poll owes a great deal to the relationship he has with the club’s fans. Unlike a great deal of foreign imports, Reina has managed to immerse himself fully into the English culture and culture of his club, with his consummate professionalism unquestionably admirable.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, former Denmark international Jan Molby was affectionately known as an ‘honorary Scouser’, a term used to describe the way in which he managed to perform for the club as if he had had a lifelong tie with the club (Molby, born and bred in Denmark, actually managed to pick up a Scouse accent). Upon the signing of Reina’s new contract, Liverpool’s all-time leading scorer Ian Rush noted similarities between the Danish playmaker and the Spanish custodian, informing Liverpool’s official website that “Everyone knows how Jan Molby ‘became’ a Scouser after he joined the Reds, playing with the same passion as those on the Kop and tapping into what makes the club tick. Reina has done likewise; a leader and a motivator, he showed his commitment to the club by signing a six-year contract and is going to be an important man for a long, long time.”
A fan will watch a wealth of players come and go at their club, with many indulging in ‘faux-loyalty’ acts of badge-kissing and declarations of love for the club. However, so few actually mean it. The conduct of Spain’s number two suggests that he truly belongs in the camp of genuine footballers. For example, when David N’Gog scored a 95th minute goal against Manchester United to seal Liverpool’s morale-boosting victory over their arch-rivals, Reina frantically ran the entire length of the pitch to congratulate his French team-mate and celebrate in front of The Kop (click here to see the amusing footage of said incident). Such a passionate and emotional act of conduct tangibly highlighted the mutual love between the player and the fans; with all honesty, can you imagine any other Premier League goalkeepers behaving like this in the same circumstance?
During the recent turmoil at Anfield, the nature of player sound bites emanating from the club have not always been favourable. Ignoring the reprehensible comments espoused by compatriot Albert Riera, the silences of and collective failure to issue rallying calls by the club’s other foreign players have almost been as damaging as the quotes uttered by the disgraced former Espanyol winger. Throughout the duration of the last season, Reina frequently offered assurances that everyone within the club was trying their best to rectify their problems.
Whilst the deafening silences of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have served to heighten anxiety amongst Kopites, Reina has sought to appease such fan concern by telling The People that, “I am calm about Fernando [Torres].I spoke to him about his future and he has told me that he intends to continue with us”. More recently, Reina has risked angering the club’s hierarchy by calling on the club’s much-maligned owners to leave as soon as possible.
Reina’s motivational skills are not confined to the media. He leads through example, with his commitment shining through by way of his performances. Speaking of Reina, manager Rafael Benitez said,”His mentality and advice for other players mean he is an inspiration. Like [Dirk] Kuyt, he is always positive and happy.” It’s not just his manager that has noticed this. Both Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have paid the ultimate tribute to Reina by suggesting that he has the credentials to become a future captain of the club.
It’s when compared to other players at the club that Reina really comes across as the consummate pro. Reina’s unflinching desire to sign a new long-term deal is all the more impressive when considering that team-mate Javier Mascherano has delayed the completion of his new contract to see how the immediate future unfolds at Anfield, or when taking into account Yossi Benayoun’s recent comments that allude to the fact that he is seeking a move to fierce rivals Chelsea.
The big spending behaviour of the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea in the last ten years has highlighted the dearth of loyalty within the modern game – the Eastlands side’s acquisition of Carlos Tevez from Manchester United last summer indicated that money can now readily transcend fierce long-time rivalries. Thankfully, for every Carlos Tevez and Ashley Cole, there’s a Pepe Reina.
Follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/zarifrasul