Since his arrival before the '05/'06 campaign, Jose 'Pepe' Reina has been the undisputed first choice as custodian for Liverpool Football Club. This season, a strange thing happened. When Brad Jones stepped-in as a replacement for the unusually injured Reina, some fans openly wondered if maybe this enforced change wasn't such a bad thing and Pandora's box had been opened.
The idea of the solid but unremarkable Jones being preferable to the recently erratic Reina was one that could only exist in some minds, and even then it was only because the Spaniard's form over at least a season and a half had caused some of the veneer to be scuffed from his painstakingly established reputation. This was a man, after all, who had claimed the coveted Golden Gloves award three times consecutively from 2006 to 2008.
Reina's outstanding form over many season's is not the only reason he is beloved of LFC fans. He has been a genuine leader too, a strong personality even in a dressing room of forceful characters. He has been a matchday point-of-focus too, for the Anfield crowd, with his pinpoint-distribution, booming exhortations and ecstatic goal celebrations.
The unprecedented upheaval at Liverpool Football Club, since the realisation that the Hicks and Gillett empire was a house-of-cards, has seen many of Reina's most talented colleagues depart. His disillusionment was duly voiced and the effect of it was enhanced in fans' minds, by constant rumours linking him to Arsenal and Manchester United.
Last month, on the back of what many have perceived to be his weakest season for LFC, rumours emerged that Reina was a target for Barcelona. The goalkeeper's own father talked the move up and it was lent more credence by the revelation that Victor Valdes had decided to seek a career away from Catalonia next season.
However, speaking to Radio Marca recently, our net-minder insisted that he was "very happy" at Liverpool and dismissed as "just speculation" any talk of a move back to his boyhood club. He claimed that he could not see Luis Suarez playing in La Liga and that he envisaged the Uruguayan staying at Liverpool.
How much consolation or encouragement one draws from such mid-season pronouncements is clearly in direct proportion to one's optimism quotient. Also, whereas many supporters will be currently worrying their chosen deity with impassioned pleas that Suarez will not leave, it is fair to say that considerably fewer will be fretting about the future of Pepe Reina.
Rightly or wrongly, there now exists a school-of-thought that sees Reina as past his peak and a saleable commodity for a rebuilding club, not saturated in petrol-dollars. At only 30, he could still have a long career ahead of him at Liverpool Football Club and yet next summer could very possibly see a move away from Anfield for the likeable Spaniard. These are "strange days indeed," as a moderately successful Liverpudlian musician once wrote.