26 July 2013

On Pepe Reina

Gulp. Deep breaths. We can do this. We can do this. We can do this.


In news that surprises no one, as it's been rumored, discussed, and debated for a week now, Pepe Reina is on his way to Napoli on a season-long loan, 'confirmed' by Rodgers in this morning's press conference. And the move makes sense, from pretty much from every point of view. And I can't remember the last time I was so conflicted about transfer news. The head says "well, yeah, this is completely logical." The heart says "no no no no NO STOP THIS NOW." Stupid heart.

All the key players get what they want: Reina, Liverpool, Napoli. It's rare that happens in football. Or life for that matter, but now's not the time to get existential.

Deep breaths.

Reina makes somewhere between £4-5m per year in wages (£80-100k per week). Some, maybe even all, of that's now off the books. He gets a year at Napoli, back with Rafa Benitez and goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, a team involved in the Champions League, before a seemingly inevitable move to Barcelona when Victor Valdes' contract expires. He'll get to play regularly prior to the upcoming World Cup, something Liverpool couldn't guarantee. That's the sort of respect that a club legend – and I don't use the term lightly – deserves. But if somehow Mignolet doesn't settle, doesn't fit (which I absolutely do not see happening), Liverpool can always refuse to sell come next summer; Reina's contract runs until the end of the 2015-16 season.

Liverpool aren't flogging him to the first suitor to blink flirtatiously and whip out the checkbook now that Barca are ostensibly making him wait a year. And, as suspected at the time and despite what was said to the media, Liverpool aren't going to have a two-men-enter-one-man-leaves goalkeeper competition for a season. Thankfully, as it almost never, ever works (see Dudek v Kirkland, among many, many others).

We covered a lot of this in the 'Welcome Simon Mignolet' post last month, but it's obviously worth reiterating that by almost every statistical measure, Mignolet has been the better keeper over the last few seasons. The Belgian has a higher save percentage, has been better at punching and claiming of crosses and corners, and made fewer errors.

Reina's save percentage has dropped precipitously since his first few seasons, hovering right around 69% (the league average) for the last three campaigns. Reina's errors have also risen each season: four in 2010-11, five in 2011-12, and six in 2012-13. Mignolet's statistics compare favorably to Reina's in almost every regard over the last couple of campaigns, as the Belgian has improved in each successive season while Reina's regressed. In one very in-depth statistical analysis, Mignolet was rated the second-best keeper in the league last season, just barely behind Julio Cesar. As said in the Mignolet post three weeks ago, the ex-Sunderland man topped last season's WhoScored performance rating for Premier League keepers, and was fourth – behind Cech, Begovic, and Reina – in Squawka's.

Pepe Reina is a three-time Golden Glove winner, but those three seasons were 2005-06, 2006-07, and 2007-08. He's kept 134 clean sheets in his 285 Premier League matches over eight seasons (only Cech has more of keepers who've made more than 50 league appearances), but only 40 in the last three seasons. In the five seasons under Rafa Benitez, Reina averaged 18.8 clean sheets per campaign. In the three seasons since, that's dropped to 13.3.

There is one statistic that remains heavily in Reina's favor. For all his increasing "faults," Pepe Reina's passing remains superlative. Both short and long. Few keepers are more accurate, few keepers are more involved, few keepers sweep as well as Reina does. Meanwhile, Mignolet's somewhat frightening passing statistics are what caused him to be ranked fourth by Squawka last season, completing just 41.4% of his passes last season (309 of 746) against Reina's 70.8% (490 of 692). And passing from the back is marginally important in Brendan Rodgers' system.

But sometimes you just have to damn statistics, because despite all the words and numbers and logical arguments, they aren't helping you cope.

Now that Jamie Carragher has retired, only one player has been at Liverpool for a longer period of time than Pepe Reina. You may have heard of him. He's only, at worst, Liverpool's second-best player ever.

Otherwise, every single player in Liverpool's first-team squad – all 25 to 30 of them – have been with the club for a shorter amount of time. Agger was signed in January 2006, Lucas in May 2007, Skrtel in January 2008. Every other player was either signed or promoted from the academy in the last five years.

That is a startling, terrifying lack of institutional memory. Not counting academy players promoted during his tenure (or before, in Gerrard's case), just four players on Liverpool's books were signed by Rafael Benitez: Agger, Lucas, Skrtel, and Glen Johnson. Only those four, plus Gerrard, Kelly and Spearing, have seen Liverpool finish higher than sixth. Only those players have experienced Liverpool in the Champions League.

Put it another way. Only 26 players in Liverpool history have made more appearances for the club than Pepe Reina, who has made 394. Just 26! In the 121-year history of the club! Reina has been a permanent fixture for eight seasons, and it will be incredibly strange to not see him guarding Liverpool's goal come August 17.

We knew that both Rodgers and FSG wanted to lower Liverpool's average age, for both wage and statistical reasons, but it's happened faster than I ever expected. And there will undoubtedly be consequences.

Almost as importantly, how are Liverpool going to replace this?

You need characters in the dressing room; they're ties that bind. Players to lead, players to bring others together. Carragher did that, Reina did that. And now both are gone.

We needed to see Pepe Reina emcee one of those celebrations at Liverpool. That we never did is further proof – as if we needed more – that life is not fair.

Good luck at Napoli, Pepe. Replacing you will be a hell of a hard task.


Anonymous said...

This is excellent. Great points all around

Shawn said...

I'm going to miss his celebrations when Liverpool scored a big goal. There was always a good shot of Pepe in mid-air pumping a fist.

Shawn said...

And him doing this like this.


God speed Pepe.

Anonymous said...

Captures my thoughts exactly. Thank you. His MCing is spectacular.

I expect so much from Mignolet, but absolutely LOVE this guy.