Pepe Reina is set for a year out on loan to Italian side Napoli. Coached by Rafa Benitez and with Xavi Valero in tow- the coach who got the best out of Reina during his Liverpool heyday- one can see the appeal of the move to Reina.
But what is the appeal to Liverpool? This is proving a contentious issue amongst fans. Not so much that Reina is leaving the club- but that he's leaving on loan. Loan deals are typically used to provide game time for young-up-and-comers to get some real, senior football under their belts (clearly not applicable to Reina). Alternatively, loans are used to shift players who just aren't cutting it- putting them in the shop window in the hope that someone will eventually choose to take the player permanently. This is also not applicable to Reina, whose stock at Liverpool and in world football remains rather high, so what is the purpose of his loan?
The answer is partly financial. With Brendan Rodgers willing to spend £10,000,000 recruiting one of the Premier League's leading goalkeepers in Simon Mignolet, Reina's position at Liverpool would most certainly have been reduced to a bench spot, and at £110,000 per week, that is one very expensive back-up. One would hope Liverpool exhausted the possibility of sealing a permanent move for Reina before sanctioning the loan move, as whilst saving on wages, the loan move is depriving Liverpool of closure and a further boost to the transfer pot. Additionally, Liverpool may be setting themselves up for a messy situation trying to offload Reina next summer, now it has become patently obvious the club are very keen to get rid.
However, despite the drawbacks of a loan deal, Reina did have to leave one way or another this summer. Suggestions that both Reina and Mignolet should have stayed to compete for the number one jersey are ludicrous. No club in the world has two goalkeepers of the standard of Mignolet and Reina in the same squad and for good reason- it wouldn't work. The art of goalkeeping is borne out of consistency. You can begin hoping the competition will bring the best out of the keepers, but inevitably, one would end up playing all the games whilst the other sits on the bench, becoming ever more frustrated at the lack of playing time his talents would clearly deserve whilst draining the club millions in wages. The alternative would be to rotate the keepers, but inevitably you would just end up arbitrarily dropping a keeper to give the other a run out to try and keep the two happy. This would be pointless if your goalkeeper is playing well, and would only serve to frustrate both keepers with neither able to get a good run in the team, with both repeatedly being dropped despite playing well.
And frankly, I would be disgusted if a supposedly top goalkeeper required his club to invest vast sums in a second top goalkeeper just to come in and breathe down his neck to make sure he plays well. The goalkeeper should be professional enough to be motivated to play his best week in, week out regardless of competition. Consider arguably the top two Premier League goalkeepers of recent seasons- Petr Cech and Joe Hart. Their competition has been Ross Turnbull and Costel Pantilimon respectively. Turnbull provides no sterner competition at Chelsea than Brad Jones does at Liverpool, whilst Pantilimon provides such little competition that he is yet to make a Premier League appearance in two years at Manchester City.
It is clear that what you need in your squad is one top goalkeeper (either Reina or Mignolet would fit this bill), and one goalkeeper who is happy to play second fiddle, sit on the bench week after week and be a capable deputy when called upon. Whether or not you think Brad Jones is that man is a different matter altogether- but what is certain is that neither Reina nor Mignolet should be that man.
So now I come on to the next issue that fans are complaining about- FSG and their supposed 'asset stripping.' There is a perception that FSG have decided Reina is too expensive to keep, thus they have encouraged the recruitment of goalkeeper in Mignolet- likely on a third of Reina's wages- to allow Reina to be removed from the wage bill. None of us are privy to the discussions being held in the Liverpool boardroom, but I have no doubt that the decision to recruit Mignolet and shift Reina was nobody's but Brendan Rodgers'. And the reason? Because Mignolet has been a better goalkeeper than Reina for the last two years. Barring an upturn in form during the last few months of last season, Reina has spent the best part of two-and-a-half years as a shadow of his former self. Making far too many mistakes, and frankly just not putting in the effort into even trying to make saves. If I were manager, I would have made the exact same decision to replace Reina and let him seek pastures new.
Perhaps you would not have replaced Reina- and that's fine- these matters are subjective after all and everyone's opinions are different. But trying to suggest it's part of a wider FSG-led agenda to keep the costs of Liverpool down so as to earn the boardroom staff more money is paranoia and, frankly, embarrassing. The rationale is obvious. Reina has been too poor for too long and no longer justifies his contract, and Rodgers decided Mignolet is a better bet.
Is it ideal that Reina's move is on loan? No. But it makes an awful lot more sense than not sending him out at all.