By Mark Robinson
Today the Guardian newspaper printed an interview with our goalkeeper under the headline “Pepe Reina hints he could follow Fernando Torres out of Liverpool”. In the past I have accepted such articles as simple journalistic provocation, designed to sell more copy. Certainly if every player linked with a move actually took that option it would become difficult for the average fan to even keep track of the current squad, let alone feel affection towards their ‘heroes’. Yet in the wake of the Torres departure, and the fact that the article features direct quotes from the player, fans should take this rumour seriously.
These quotes include mention of ManUtd and Arsenal’s need for a new goalkeeper, his desire to stay in England (even if not with LFC) and his signing of a new contract last year (an obstacle rather than privilege, apparently). Most importantly of all he used the same language as Torres to describe his discontent. I don’t mean their common tongue Spanish, rather the phrases “challenging for trophies” and “transition”.
If there is one thing we’ve leant from the Torres departure it’s that football fans experience something akin to grief when one of their beloved leaves. The Kübler-Ross model of grief posits that there are 5 stages to the process, and as a community of fans we have done it all. Denial (“Nando will never leave, he loves Liverpool”), Anger (“sell the moody f**ker to Chelsea if he doesn’t to play for us”), Bargaining (“he’s probably just looking for a bigger contract like Rooney”), Depression (“we’ll never win anything now”) and Acceptance (“£50m a good price for someone who was never really a Red”). Of course buying Suarez and Carroll helped a lot of fans reach acceptance fairly quickly, a bit like splitting up with a girlfriend then having a threesome on the rebound.
My warning to Pepe does not focus on this short-term process (player and fans move on). Nor will it dwell on the slow-lane/fast-lane argument which we have seen applied to Torres long-term future (surrounded by pensioners whose hunger to win trophies has largely been sated). Man Utd’s debt has already caused discontent in their biggest player, while it should be pretty obvious that Arsenal, for all their quality, don’t actually win trophies. Yet, we have to acknowledge it would also be a gamble to stay with Liverpool so ultimately nobody can see the future.
What we can see, however, is the way in which fans treat their loyal servants. LFC is almost unique in that the bond between player and fan has the potential to last far beyond the duration of a playing career. Look no further than King Kenny for proof that loyalty to the club wins you life-long loyalty from the fans. Kenny Dalglish was my Liverpool manager, in the same way Sylvester McCoy was my Doctor Who and when he left I’m sure the 10-year old me went through a similar grief model to the one evoked above. Over time we empathised with him and accepted his decision, after all, few managers would expect funeral attendances of fans killed at a football match to be in the job description.
Concerning Pepe Reina we certainly understand his frustration (and have shared in it), but he needs to understand that there is a difference between and club ‘in transition’ and a club that has already done so. It’s too early to tell whether our 4 wins in a row represents that, all I know is that I haven’t felt this good about LFC in a long while. With new owners who seem to get ‘it’, a new head coach that seems to have universal respect and Kenny Dalglish showing the same tactical and psychological competence that made Liverpool of old so fun to watch. Fans will remember which players dug them out of the hole and which ones climbed over fans to escape alone. For those who stay (and succeed) will have a place at LFC for life, if not in employment, then certainly in the hearts of fans amongst other greats in the Liverpool canon.
So here is my warning to Pepe Reina: Your short-term ambition might lead to your total obscurity. Win a couple of trophies with Man Utd and you’ll have something to show the grandkids but fail to do so and you’ll only ever be remembered as a journeyman (after all you have won less in your career than Sander Westerveld). As second choice keeper in the Spain squad you are surrounded by the success of others and it seems to have obscured your ability to see what you already have at Liverpool. Show us loyalty and we will give you genuine love, for there is no grief without love. Success isn’t guaranteed anywhere but seek success with us, at this time especially, and win or lose you will be remembered fondly forever.