The manner of Liverpool’s opening goal at the weekend sums up all that we know and love about football – that it is the finest of margins that can make the biggest of differences. Too often this season the Reds have been on the receiving end of those ‘what if?’ moments, they’ve been the ones waking up with the feeling that the previous day’s events could have been so different but for a bit of luck. It’ll feel good to be on the right side of the divide, but to put the derby win down purely to luck – as many sympathising with Everton’s plight have done – would be to do Liverpool’s players a disservice, and the Reds have one of the world’s best in goal.
Pepe Reina’s stunning double save from first Tim Cahill and then Marouane Fellaini was the latest in a long line of spectacular stops from the man who has guarded Liverpool’s goal with great distinction since his £6m move from Villarreal before the 2005/06 season. Displacing Jerzy Dudek, who had become a Liverpool legend in the final game of the previous campaign, Reina went on to set a club record of 11 straight clean sheets in his first season, winning the first of three consecutive Barclays ‘Golden Glove’ awards – the trophy awarded for keeping the most clean sheets in a campaign. He broke his own record by keeping 20 clean sheets in his 38 games last season, and while Liverpool’s defensive troubles have seen him ship more goals than usual this campaign, none of the goals he’s conceded could be put down to him, and Liverpool would be in a much worse position without their Spanish stopper.
Often overshadowed by Edwin van der Sar and Petr Cech when discussing the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, Reina has now – in this writer’s opinion at least – risen above the Manchester United and Chelsea custodians due to the former’s injuries and the latter’s loss of form and confidence. One of the best ever at distributing the ball from the back – Dirk Kuyt’s game-clinching goal at Goodison came from a quick attack started by the goalkeeper’s long pass to the Dutchman – Reina is also one of the best at anticipating danger. One quick reaction to deny an onrushing Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in particular caught the eye, a quality that he’s demonstrated more times than there are pronunciations of the Russian midfielder’s name.
Don’t let the baldness fool you, Reina is still only 27, and so – if we were to use the ageing van der Sar as an example – he could still have 12 years left at the top. One of the most popular and respected members of the Liverpool squad, Reina is regarded as one of the leaders of the club and the team. It was the goalkeeper who organised the pre-match huddle before the victory over Manchester United in October. He sprinted the entire length of the pitch to celebrate David Ngog’s stoppage time strike. His talk of a new contract whilst in the depths of the doom and gloom surrounding the club earlier in the season won him even more admirers amongst the club’s support. Here is a foreign player who has quickly become aware of the club’s history and tradition – Fernando Torres, Reina’s next door neighbour, credits the goalkeeper with educating him in the ways of the club and the city, and Torres isn’t the only Spaniard to hold him in high regard. Reina was the main cheerleader after Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph – at his fellow players’ request.
There are several questions surrounding many of the current Liverpool squad and their futures, but supporters can rest easy about their goalkeeper. Reina will remain a top quality performer for the Reds for years to come. Neither club nor player would want it any other way.