After a difficult start to life at the Stadio San Paolo, Pepe Reina has begun to feel at home at Napoli, rediscovering something of his old form after a few seasons well off his best at Liverpool. It's not a move the goalkeeper ever expected to make, but now that he's there, he's glad for the new lease on goalkeeping life it's given him.
"I did not expect to come to Napoli, to change scenery," Reina told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope during a group interview with fellow Napoli summer arrivals Gonzalo Higuain and manager Rafa Benitez, with the goalkeeper willing to openly discuss both last summer's move to Italy and whether he sees a future back in England.
"It was a surprise for me when Liverpool signed a new goalkeeper in the summer," he added, admitting that the arrival of Simon Mignolet had caught him off guard. "My wife was the first to encourage me to move and now I'm very proud and grateful for that decision. I think it has been an absolute success and that I'm a better goalkeeper than last year."
For all that Reina was a fan favourite will be remembered as one of Liverpool's best 'keepers thanks to his superb form through much of Benitez' tenure as, that his play had fallen off dramatically in recent seasons was an unavoidable truth. And while many had thought the new, rather poorer Reina was here to stay, reuniting with Benitez has clearly revitalised him.
"I had been at Liverpool for a long time but now I am happy here in Naples," he said. "I missed working with Rafa, and now I have a fresh outlook on the game and have been playing some of my best football. The city is the opposite of Liverpool: people do not respect your privacy, but they show their affection.
"We have a new coach, a new style, and new players. I am happy at the moment, but I would be even happier if we won the league, Coppa Italia and Champions League. It's very difficult to imagine that I'll return to Liverpool. In the summer I will have to end my contract with them."
If rumours of an agreement between Reina's representatives and Ian Ayre that they will allow the goalkeeper to leave permanently next summer for around £5M if a willing buyer can be found, then on his current form it's hard to imagine he won't find a permanent home outside of Merseyside in a little more than six months.
Whether that home keeps him in Napoli, sends him back to Barcelona where his career started, or lands him somewhere else remains an open question. That he won't be headed back to Liverpool, though, seems ever more certain.
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