x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mid-career crisis taking hold of Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina

Age is on goalkeeper's side but time is also running out for him to perform, writes Richard Jolly.

There is only one reason why Pepe Reina does not rank among the world's great goalkeepers. After almost 400 appearances in eight seasons at Liverpool, he has experience in abundance.

At 30, however, his best years should be ahead of him. He has athleticism and agility as well as a footballing ability that few goalkeepers can rival, meaning he can double up as an 11th outfield player. An exuberant character, he has captained Liverpool. A World Cup winner and double European champion with Spain, he has an enviable medal collection.

Yet the reason Reina does not belong alongside Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon is very simple.

His performances have not been good enough. A personal slump dates back at least two years. It has gone beyond a blip and if it is inexplicable in some respects, not attributable to age, injury or an obvious technical failing, his errors, once annual events, have occurred with increasing frequency.

That, as much as his reported £110,000 (Dh620,250)-a-week salary, is why Brendan Rodgers is set to allow Reina to leave Liverpool and join Napoli on a season-long loan.

Top goalkeepers win their team games. Reina has cost Liverpool too many of late. In the space of eight days last summer, he gifted Manchester City, Hearts and Arsenal goals.

The first denied Rodgers a maiden league victory as Liverpool manager just as, two years earlier, Roy Hodgson was on course for a debut triumph against Arsenal until Reina blundered.

The most expensive mistake of all came at Wembley in 2012 when Reina dived the wrong way as Ramires put Chelsea ahead. Having been instrumental in winning Liverpool one FA Cup final, in 2006, he was a major factor why they lost their next.

And so, when it seemed Victor Valdes was set to leave Barcelona this summer and Reina was mooted as his replacement, it appeared ideal for Liverpool.

They could sell an underachiever and secure a better, but lower-paid, replacement.

Sadly for Rodgers, life at Anfield is scarcely that simple. But after a change of plan from Valdes, whose departure is now scheduled for 2014, Liverpool have bought themselves time while Reina is likely to be reunited with former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez in Serie A when the rumoured deal is finally confirmed.

They must hope that Barcelona, where Reina began his career, make an offer in 12 months. The key, however, is that Rodgers has shown his ruthlessness. Always publicly supportive of Reina, his private thoughts were clearly very different.

Simon Mignolet was signed from Sunderland to be first choice – Liverpool are not in a position to pay £9m for a substitute goalkeeper – and his position has been rubber-stamped by Reina's anticipated departure.

Rodgers has taken on one of the big beasts of the Liverpool dressing room.

In comparison, last year he picked on easier targets in Kenny Dalglish's poorer signings.

Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam left, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson could have done.

Yet while Liverpool can lament the break-up of their glorious team of 2009, one of its survivors had become a problem.

And now those days are distanced. In the last couple of months, two of the three senior citizens have gone with Jamie Carragher retired and Reina relocated. At a club where, famously, you will never walk alone, Steven Gerrard now stands alone in a new-look team.

Reina, meanwhile, has to start again. One interpretation of his loss of form was that he was disenchanted by Liverpool's slide into mediocrity, especially at a time when his Spain teammates enjoyed great success for their respective clubs.

Yet while Rodgers argued that joining Napoli will help Reina secure his place at the World Cup, an overdue return to form would also help.

With David de Gea's development, he should be under pressure for his place. With Barcelona given a year's grace, a goalkeeper who has not really excelled since 2009-10 should need to flourish to persuade them he deserves to return to the Nou Camp.

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