Key Track: My Last Mistake - Dan Auerbach
"Tell me now, tell me true
Of all the things I did to you
Was this the one
That made you break?
Did I make my last mistake?"
Or at least that's how I envision Pepe Reina and Brendan Rodgers' now infamous dinner conversation went this past spring. Call me dramatic if you must.
In truth, there probably wasn't a single "no going back now" mistake by Reina that caused Rodgers to dial the agent of Simon Mignolet. The uptick in form to close the most recent campaign (coincidentally or otherwise right around the time of his "chat" with Rodgers) is not enough to shade the well-liked Spaniard's clear decline in form over the past several seasons.
Having reached 100 clean sheets faster than any other Liverpool keeper, the departure of Rafa Benitez, and perhaps more importantly goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, has seen Reina's play became frequently pockmarked by previously infrequent lapses in concentration that directly cost the Reds points.
The arrival of the Spanish-speaking Rodgers and his implementation of a possession oriented style of play, heightened hopes that Reina would return to something resembling his best form. While his distribution was still world-class and a welcome addition to Rodgers's set-up, he continued with the horrific errors that can best be described as a beloved puppy continuously shitting all over the carpet.
Butterfingers against Hearts, Pinball against Arsenal, Headless Chicken against Manchester City. It was painful to watch. Throw in the fact that Reina was the worst keeper in the Premier League at claiming crosses last year and the notion that it's time for a change becomes indisputable.
That change came in the form of Sunderland's Simon Mignolet and while thus far Reina and Mignolet have played nice, talking up the virtues of competition and squad depth, it is impossible to imagine either keeper accepting a prolonged role on the bench. Backup keepers aren't signed for close to ten million pounds and there's never room in the budget for 100,000 pounds per week towards a goalkeeper's apprentice. Further, with both keepers facing intense positional battles for next summer's World Cup (Mignolet jockeying with the brilliant Thibaut Courtois to start for Belgium, Reina fighting with Diego Lopez and David de Gea for a first-class plane ticket to Rio) it seems unlikely that we'll arrive at a Woody-Buzz Lightyear type armistice.
To submit oneself to serious sports fandom is to give oneself over to a world of total irrationality. It's always the next game in which everything will turn around and to ride down the purgatorial highway of "if only" is a routine as frequent as the daily commute. Yet, it is in this same bizarre alternate realm in which fans are, rather foolishly, expected to easily overcome their irrational biases and accept the indisputable need for change. It is at this difficult juncture, embracing logic in a relationship built upon nothing of the sort, that Liverpool supporters find themselves with the increasing likelihood that we have seen the end of Reina in a Liverpool uniform.
If the opportunity does in fact present itself, Reina should pack his bags and take the first flight to Barcelona. He can join the likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta in fighting for honors at the top of the sport and, most rarely in the strange world of sports, do so with the blessing and encouragement of his previous club's supporters.
Season Rating: 5
Reina did seriously pick up his form over the last third of the season, but it is not enough to raise the grade from another disappointing season from Liverpool's long-time custodian. He's better than what he showed for much of the season, and, hopefully, he'll return to his best wherever he ends up.