Liverpool in safe hands with Reina

The 27-year-old Pepe Reina quickly settled into the number-one spot at Anfield, and has now made nearly 250 appearances for the Merseyside club. By Richard Brown.

The analysis of the Rafael Benitez era at Anfield continues to divide opinion, but one player who has been a unanimous success is Jose “Pepe” Reina — and one blunder against Arsenal is not enough to change that. The Spanish keeper was a £6million signing from Villarreal in July 2005 as Benitez looked to strengthen his squad immediately after the surprise UEFA Champions League success over AC Milan.

For the harshest critics of the Spaniard's reign, the signing of Reina is a rare bright spot in a dodgy record in the transfer market as costly flops such as Fernando Morientes, Ryan Babel, Robbie Keane and Craig Bellamy outweighed the successful arrivals of stars such as Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and, of course, Fernando Torres.

The 27-year-old quickly settled into the number-one spot at Anfield, and has now made nearly 250 appearances for the Merseyside club.

Following in the footsteps of star names is nothing new for Reina, being as he is the son of the former Barcelona and Atletico Madrid stopper Miguel. Initially, Pepe looked likely to follow in the footsteps of his father — who played in a European Cup final for Atletico — by playing for Catalan giants Barca, signing with the youth team as a youngster.

Following his debut in 2000 — at the age of 18 — Reina went on to make nearly 30 appearances for the Spanish giants, but soon found himself surplus to requirements at the Nou Camp, and opted to join Villarreal in the pursuit of first-team football. It was there that he caught Benitez's attention, and as soon as the former Valencia boss made the move to England, intentions to sign Reina were made clear.

He had to wait a year, but eventually got his man in 2005 and has never been left disappointed with the last line of defence. Reina starred as Benitez strived to build a side capable of winning the English Premier League, but a second-placed finish in 2009 — plus a second Champions League final — was the best he could muster. And with relations with the club's controversial owners irreparably strained during last season's disappointing campaign, Benitez decided to leave for pastures new and head for Italy with Inter Milan.

Now, it is Roy Hodgson's task to pick up the reins and collate Benitez's misfits into a formidable unit once again capable of at least challenging for a place in the top four of the EPL. And although he was denied an opening-day win as Liverpool boss in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal courtesy of Reina's error — in which the club's current player of the year spilled the ball into his own net in the final minute — Hodgson is backing his goalkeeper to come back stronger than ever.

“If you are a goalkeeper and you can't live with a mistake you make then you'll never have a career at any level,” said Hodgson. “There is only one certainty in football if you are a goalkeeper, and that is one day you are going to make a mistake which is going to let in a goal. It may cost your team some points. When you put your gloves on you know that. If you are a good goalkeeper it doesn't happen very often and more often than not you come off the field with people congratulating you on winning points for the team.

“It was a mistake, he understands that. We feel sorry for him because he took it hard but he is a strong character. Let's hope he's forgotten it as quickly as I have forgotten it.”

Reina's character is widely depicted as quiet and professional and it seems unlikely he will be too affected by the opening-day blunder as Liverpool look to start a new era under Hodgson. After all, domestic honours are what eludes Reina, who, despite being part of Spain's victorious World Cup and European Championship winning squads, although his actual playing time has been limited with the presence of captain Iker Casillas ahead of him in the pecking order, has only managed to pick up an English FA Cup winner's medal during his time with Barcelona, Villarreal and Liverpool.

Since making his international debut in 2005, he has picked up 20 caps and the two major trophies in football, but it is likely that his main motivation now is club honours, and in Liverpool he should have a side capable of challenging on all four fronts. That has not always been the case in recent seasons, but with Hodgson at the helm and a possible takeover in the offing, there is again genuine optimism that big things may once again be around the corner at Anfield.

And any success is likely to be based on the solid foundations that Reina can provide.

Reina married long-time girlfriend Yolanda Ruiz in Cordoba in May 2006.

He once owned a £100,000 Porsche, but returned from a Champions League tie to find it had been stolen and set ablaze by thieves.

FACTFILE Name: Jose Reina Position: Goalkeeper Club: Liverpool D.O.B: 31/8/82 Spain Caps: 20 Spain Goals: 0 Spain Debut: 2005

Moment to remember: Being part of a national team that is currently the world and European champion must bring Reina immense pride.

Moment to forget: The gaffe against Arsenal received so much attention not only because it handed the Gunners a point, but also because it was a rare mistake from one of the most dependable goalkeepers in European football.

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