As the debates rage on about Torres and his untimely departure from Liverpool Football Club, an interesting question has started to creep up. There’s no doubt in most supporters’ minds that losing Fernando Torres, no matter how much he didn’t want to play for the club anymore, was a massive blow. The hurt feelings combined with the fact the club would be lacking one of the most talented strikers in the world was always going to be hard to take. Everyone felt used, mistreated, and saddened by his sudden change of heart. In the wake of his new desire to play for another team, fans were so disheartened by the treatment they felt Torres had put them under that they didn’t stop to look at the bigger picture.
Since Torres was, is, and most likely will be a top class striker, for the remainder of his career anyway, it’s easy to see why any club would miss him. But while we all sat around dismayed and disillusioned, the manager and owners were busy working at a way to overcome that feeling of loss. Dalglish couldn’t have said it better than when he told the press, “The football club will always be here, and no person is bigger than this football club.” Right on.
And strikers, while top class ones are always hard to find, are definitely out there. And I personally think the top brass did a magnificent job in acquiring the likes of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. The feeling around the club is that the team will be better off in the long run. Goals will keep flowing, and perhaps the burden will now be shared from one to many.
And as we watched all this drama unfold, you had to look around and think: if we had lost another massively important player other than Torres, would we still have been better off? I think the answer to that is no. And the player I’m referring to Liverpool losing is Pepe Reina.
It’s a matter of coincidence that I prepared to write this piece over the last number of days when just this afternoon, Twitter was abuzz with rumors of Pepe ‘apparently’ stating he wants out now as well. And I use apparently because the rumors appeared primarily on Twitter and then one small, what looked like slapped together article in the Metro UK, regarding his desire to leave Liverpool and go to Manchester United. While I am no more in a position than the Metro UK to claim this is true or not, I have to say it all sounds a bit strange.
For all we believed Torres when he said he loved the club and would never leave, I just don’t think Reina is the same kind of person he is. Couple that with the fact that goalkeepers have much longer careers than outfield players (which is why Torres felt he needed to leave now before it was too late), and you just don’t get the sense there’s any merit to the silly rumor. (It seems Simon Clancy and Ben Smith were having a little conversation of their own on the micro-blogging site, nothing but harmless speculation, and somehow the Metro believed this to be word on high regarding the Spaniard’s current position.)
Back to the question at hand. If the fans and the people involved in managing Liverpool had a choice, would they be worse off seeing the back of Fernando Torres, or the back of Pepe Reina? As mentioned before, as sad as most are to see Torres go, I think it’s an easy question to answer.
A quality goalkeeper, as Arsenal knows all too well, gets you about 10 extra points a season. This can be the difference between safety and relegation, European qualification and mid-table mediocrity, and winning the league and coming in second. When losses are turned into draws and draws turned into wins because the man between the sticks makes some world class saves, it becomes more clear that his position may be even more important than the ones scoring the goals.
Don’t misunderstand and think that I’m saying strikers are insignificant, that’s not my point at all. But key to grabbing points is not just up to how many the team scores, but how many you keep out in the end. You’ll never lose a game if you don’t concede a goal and all that.
After the game against Stoke, two wonderful things happened. First, Liverpool managed to finally gain a positive goal difference. It took 25 games, but at least they got there. Second, and most importantly, Pepe Reina kept another clean sheet, his third in a row to be exact. And on top of that, Reina passed Elisha Scott for third highest clean sheets in LFC history. That’s an amazing feat for a keeper who has only been at the club just over five years, and also managed to beat Ray Clemence’s record of fewest goals conceded in their first 50 games by notching 28 clean sheets in his first 50 appearances. Add to that his two Premier League Golden Glove awards for most clean sheets for three years in succession (three if you count 2008 when he tied Petr Cech), and you see what an incredible asset Reina is.
On top of that, Pepe Reina has the reputation of a lovely and jovial young man. He celebrates more than most when his team wins and score important goals, and he, we’d like to believe, is Liverpool through and through. He has even joked that his kids have scouse accents. The fact that he’s been made captain in the absence of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher speaks volumes about his leadership, commitment, and talent. Gerrard even testified last season as to the immense character of Pepe Reina, and believes that he will indeed one day captain the club.
Reina made his intentions clear last year by signing a contract extension, and committing himself to Liverpool for many years to come. He was one of the first to do so in a season filled with low points, which just goes to show the perseverance and faith he has in Liverpool. He was quoted as saying during the most recent transfer window, when his position at the club may have been in doubt, “Obviously, I want to be part of a team that has the chance to win the title, win major trophies and to play with the best players – but I expect that to happen here at Liverpool, and for the club to return itself to that level. I plan to stick to my contract.” I imagine Pepe might have had one or two things to say to his Spanish compatriot about loyalty before he walked out the backdoor.
At the end of the day, Liverpool Football Club and its fans want players that want to play for them. In Reina they have a world-class talent and loyal servant to the club. If I had to make a choice this past transfer window, as difficult as it would have been, I would have chosen for Reina to stay. And while Liverpool may once again be fooled into taking a player’s word as his bond, you get that feeling that Pepe means it – really.