It’s 4:41 PM on May 25th, 2006. Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is the backdrop to Liverpool’s seventh FA Cup success and Pepe Reina’s defining moment in the clubs goal. The Spaniard’s third save in an intoxicating penalty shoot-out deprives a plucky West Ham side, whilst enabling Steven Gerrard to hoist the famous trophy high into the Welsh evening sky.
Fast-forward four months and the circumstances alter dramatically. Now, 1:17 PM at a hostile Reebok Stadium, the same goalkeeper is at fault as former Everton star Gary Speed hammers home a decisive opener in what proves to be the reds third defeat of the campaign. Understandably, rage ensues over the free-kick in question. A mystified Reina was clearly within his rights when releasing and then delivering the ball up-field. Nevertheless, his positioning from the resulting effort is evidently flawed. This latest mishap only worsens a catalogue of errors undermining the teams early season efforts.
Jose Manuel Reina, to give him his full name, is a good keeper. His shot-stopping ability can never be questioned. He punches harder than John Prescott. And last years impressive haul of thirty clean sheets was enough to earn inevitable comparison with Ray Clemence. However, with a backline adjusting to the emergence of Daniel Agger, as well as a new system collectively, last seasons impregnable force has been called upon a considerable amount more.
It was interesting to hear Ian Rush’s comments in the week. The legendary striker warned the incumbent number one of predecessors’ failings. Certainly, the club has never really replaced the aforementioned Clemence with a steady, consistent man between the sticks. Bruce Grobelaar (who would claim exception, though calamities were never fully eradicated), David James, Brad Freidel, Sander Westerveld, Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland have all tried and failed. Indeed, such a list makes for grim reading.
The vital solution does not lay far a field. In fact, he is a current Liverpool player. The last statement is true to an extent, as Charlton have wisely secured Scott Carson’s talents for twelve months.
Young, composed, athletic and for the most part reliable, the loanee must surely be considered for service in the not too distant future. A famous baptism of fire was forthcoming in the epic Champions League Quarter Final tie at Anfield against Juventus, during 2005’s glory laden blaze through Europe. An accomplished performance which encompassed a memorable stop from the bearing Alessandro Del Pierro, was sadly marred by a late howler gifting Fabio Cannavaro consolation. This showing was one of only a handful of appearances between the sticks, as Dudek and eventually Reina hindered the chances of any consistent run in the side.
To date, Carson, a product of Leeds’ impressive conveyer belt of goalkeeping hopefuls, has shone in Charlton colours. Excellent games versus both Manchester United and Arsenal have increased stock and initiated calls for his quick-fire return to Anfield.
Whether or not the Whitehaven rookie can carve out a career for himself in Merseyside remains to be seen. Nostalgia reminds Kopites of Kirkland’s mass potential. Sadly, a combination of injury and the Dudek factor undermined the England International’s efforts, meaning he, by his own admission, has no future in the North West.
A similar turn of events could hamper Carson. Remember, Reina is a mere 24, and should Rafael Benitez continue his unwavering support, could endure a long stint in the Liverpool goal.
It is not necessarily a matter of who’s the better of the two. Not at this moment anyway. As previously mentioned, Iain Dowie has snapped-up the understudy for the remainder of this campaign. No head-on challenge can be mounted just yet. Regardless, the Spaniard’s form has been insidious thus far.
Brief revenge on the part of Bobby Zamora was gifted courtesy of a shocking mistake when West Ham traveled to Anfield in August. Senor Reina looked as confused as Rio Ferdinand often is when spelling his own name here. The misfortune of Bolton has already been noted. While the sickening feeling evoked from the derby horror show brought tears to both sets of supporters’ eyes, for differing reasons.
Make no bones about it, compatriot loyalty will not blur Benitez’ vision. One of the manager’s biggest strengths is his ability to admit when he’s wrong, something Gerard Houllier seldom did. Flops will be ousted faster than a Pavarotti diet. Perfect examples include Josemi, Antonio Nunez and Fernando Morientes. All three shared both nationality and a turbulent spell at Anfield. All three were correspondingly offloaded.
This week brings the welcomed climax to a series of international fixtures only interrupting club progress. Liverpool resume at home to Blackburn, the beginning of a crucial spell in Pepe Reina’s Anfield career one assumes. All goalkeepers suffer from time to time and its stunning saves like that away to Maccabi Haifa which could reassure the former Villarreal stopper and fans alike. If not, Scott Carson is hardly a bad reserve.