Date: 6th February 2013 at 3:50pm
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SO that’s that – Pepe Reina is past it.

The goalkeeper who has broken numerous clean sheet records for the Reds, won personal accolades and often single-handedly kept us in games we had no right not to lose is fit for the knackers yard. All because he’s made a few mistakes in what has – undoubtedly – been his single worst season as a Liverpool ‘keeper.

Reina appears to have reached that stage in his career now (as all great players do) were he has passed the stage of being appreciated when he does something great, because it is what we expect so continuing to do it garners no praise.

Instead, he is overly-castigated when he does make a mistake because, unlike your average run-of-the-mill goalkeeper, he is expected to constantly keep his levels high. Less is expected of worse players and the best athletes tend to not get given the same lee-way when they under-perform.

When Rafa Benitez remarked in 2009 that ‘a good goalkeeper can win the title… he is a very good ‘keeper, the best in the world for me. He is No.1’, he was referring to Pepe Reina; who had just come off the back of his third consecutive Golden Glove award in the 2008-09 season.

Since then Reina almost won the award again in 2009-10, only being beaten out by Petr Cech having played less games, therefore having a better games to clean sheets ratio.

What I am basically attempting to point out is that Reina has been a consistently class ‘keeper for the club for many years and has often been seen as the best in the world, besides Iker Casillas. You don’t just lose that ability over night, which is why the constant ‘he’s past it’ and ‘we need to replace him with Jack Butland’ nonsense I keep hearing is driving me to distraction.

Here is a player who – Casillas aside – would have well over 70 caps for the greatest international side in the world over the past 6 years. I’d even go as far as to suggest that, had Reina played for Madrid and Casillas Liverpool, then Reina would have been Spain’s number one during those years.

I remember going some years back when another Liverpool legend was enduring a tough run of form and fans wanted him out after a particularly torrid display in the Merseyside derby. That man was Sami Hyypia and he came back even stronger to finish his Liverpool career with a flourish, leaving us to wonder what the hell we would do without him.

I believe that, should we do the stupid thing and let Reina go, we’ll be mourning that decision once he hits form again at his new club. Also, let’s try not to forget that the club being most heavily linked with the 30 year-old is his former club, Barcelona. Yes, that Barcelona; the strongest and most respected footballing side in Europe at present. Do sides like Barca sign average and past-it players? Silly question, we know the answer to this.

The outcry against Reina has been rumbling all season but appeared to reach it’s crescendo after his ‘howler’ against Man City at the weekend. I agree that he made a mistake in coming so far out of his box, but can we all agree that Sergio Aguero had absolutely no right to score that goal?

Aguero is one of the world’s best but the angle alone should’ve been too much. 99 times out of 100 he would’ve put that well wide or it would have hit Reina and we’d have been praising his brilliance as a top ‘keeper finding his form again.

Which reminds me: how many times has Pepe come flying out of his box and caused an attacking player to miss after slipping through our defence? Numerous. Reina is, for all intents and purposes, a sweeper-keeper, slipping seamlessly off his line in times of need and basically becoming an extra defender. When he does this we love him for it, but it’s inevitable that he was going to pay for it eventually.

I’ve also read a lot this week about how many mistakes he has made this season that have led to goals. The highest I’ve seen quoted is 8, with a total of 14 points he’s apparently cost us. This is utter drivel and it’s disappointing that so many of our fans seem so keen to use this in their attempts to have Reina replaced.

Some of those errors were actually not in the league, so the total stands at more like 4 errors leading directly to goals and has more than likely cost Liverpool as few as 4 points. Of course, this doesn’t excuse Reina from making those mistakes but it does represent a small contribution to the sheer amount of defensive mistakes that have cost us this season.

Another factor that isn’t taken into account (to refer back to how much we’ve taken him for granted) is the amount of times Reina has pulled off great saves that could potentially have saved us points. There isn’t a direct stat for this and the fact that Reina tends to not have as high a ‘saves-per-game’ ratio as other goalkeepers is usually taken to mean he doesn’t make enough saves.

What it actually indicates is that Liverpool tend to dominate possession, so he rarely has to make any saves. However, when he is called upon, Pepe tends to be one of the best shot-stoppers around.

Yet another stat that can be brought up in favour of Pepe is the fact that, over the past two seasons he has a 100% record when it come to catching balls from crosses, corners, free-kicks and so on. Kind of puts paid to the idea that he isn’t very good at commanding his area from set-pieces, don’t you think? It’s a brutal kick to the shaky foundations that he isn’t a dominant ‘keeper.

So far this season Reina has 7 clean sheets in 20 league games. There’s only three Premier League goalkeepers that have kept more and those, unsurprisingly, are Joe Hart, Petr Cech (both 11) and Asimir Begovic (9) who are considered three of the best around. Not only that but, unlike these three, Reina hasn’t played every minute of every league game this season.

I noticed a few letters and emails from fans this week claiming that Julio Cesar is currently the best goalkeeper in the land. I had to laugh. Not because I don’t believe he is, but at the fickle nature of football fans.

A few months ago, Cesar was deemed to be a liability; a mercenary, money-grabbing foreigner that only joined QPR for one final pay-day. Now he is the best in the league because he helped his club keep a few clean-sheets. It just goes to show that being a ‘keeper is not only a thankless job, but also one of the most scrutinized.

It also goes to show what a new manager, coaching staff and philosophy can do to change a players form and it is here where I believe that Reina is suffering more than anybody.

Since the days of Roy Hodgson, we have swapped and changed goalkeeping coaches almost every season. From the moment Hodgson declared that he wanted Reina to start playing more like an English goalie, we knew things were wrong.

But for me, it was when John Achterberg took over as goal-keeping coach that Pepe’s form really started to dip. Now, that isn’t to say that it’s Achterberg’s fault, but coaching ‘keepers is often a one-on-one thing and it could be something as simple as incompatible personalities or ideals. As an aside, I also don’t see how a man that spent his whole career playing low-league football can offer a world-class international any real or substantial experience/advice.

It surely can’t be a coincidence that Reina hasn’t been the same since Xavi Valero left. Again, this isn’t to say that Valero is an amazing coach (although he was) but he and Reina worked well together and his methods helped make the Spaniard one of the best in the world.

A smart move would be to bring in a coach of Reina’s choosing. If that be Valero, then so be it. Perhaps more crucially, I think he needs some genuine competition for his position. It won’t do to have somebody like Brad Jones as the only back-up, as he is nothing but solid and that isn’t enough.

Similarly, hailing Jack Butland (or any other young up-and-comer, given that he’s now signed for Stoke) as his ideal replacement is nonsense. He’s spent most of his professional career (all 54 games of it!) in League 2 and the Championship, so would it have been worth splurging a fortune on another young English goalie, given our track record? Top goalkeepers are so few and far between, it’s ridiculous.

So for me, selling this Spanish international in the summer would be a grave error. One which would ultimately prove to be a regret. I agree that his form has been off this season, but Carragher, Gerrard and other legends have had bad seasons and have been persevered with for what they’ve done before and Reina shouldn’t be any different. He has deserved our faith and trust and should be given at least one more season to get his form back.

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