Since the arrival of Simon Mignolet at Anfield, I've been bracing myself for some news that has been threatening to break for a long time. I was convinced, like so many others, that Pepe Reina would be headed away from Liverpool. In fact, I rather fancied that there would be a real chance I'd have the bittersweet pleasure of seeing him in Barcelona training gear during my visit there, over the next short while.
Brendan Rodgers does not seem to be of a similar mind, however, and his quotes yesterday raise more questions than answers, for he would appear to be relishing the idea of competition between Rena and Mignolet as a real benefit to the club, as they endeavour to improve significantly on last year's league finish.
The argument around this is complex, and I've heard convincing opinions on opposing sides, but essentially what it comes down to is a simple question of whether or not it is a viable situation to have two world-class goalkeepers as rivals for one position.
There is a school of thought which believes that having two top-quality internationals vying for a first-team berth is the very definition of healthy competition and should produce a scenario in which both men reach ever-higher levels of attainment, thereby benefiting Liverpool Football Club in its pursuit of glory.
The contrary stance is equally valid, however, and has probably got more precedent behind it. Many believe that two players of such quality in direct competition for the goalkeeper's jersey is a negative thing and can be counter-productive. As the art of the custodian is such a specialized one, and the psychological side of the game is more in focus than ever, it is valid to ask what such relentlessly direct competition might do to the two men involved, one of whom must inevitably cede top status every time a match is played.
Over the years, many of the most successful teams have had an unquestioned number one with an able, but clearly second-choice, deputy. Bruce Grobbelaar had Mike Hooper, Peter Schmeichel had Raymond van der Gouw, Peter Cech had Carlo Cudicini -- the list is endless. The thinking here is that the man in possession can rest easy and be confident in his position as the top-dog but cannot rest so easily as to be beyond dropping, with a willing and capable deputy waiting to play what he accepts will be limited minutes.
Clearly, in public at least, Rodgers is not concerned that the two men will be anything but a positive influence on each other, as we all continue to ignore the pachyderm sulking in the corner. Pepe Reina has been linked with a move away for a long time. Now there's a man at the club who could conceivably displace him completely and Reina is all too familiar with the frustration of being second choice with Spain. Brendan Rodgers, however, is typically up-beat about the situation.
"I always felt it was important for us to have competition right the way through the squad, and that includes the goalkeepers," insisted the Northern Irishman. "I spoke to Pepe about this a few months back and told him we wanted to bring in another goalkeeper as real competition. I was very open with my goalkeepers and they know the situation. Pepe has been terrific here, Brad Jones was excellent when he stood in last year and I felt we needed another one. Simon comes in and we've got great competition and when you've got competition, it pushes everyone to perform."
Interestingly, Rodgers then goes on to sing Mignolet's praises, acknowledging his "great stature" and referring to him as "one of Europe's best young goalkeepers," whilst also suggesting that his time at Anfield will help him "increase his opportunities" with Belgium's fine national team. One wonders what our well-loved, follically-challenged Spaniard will make of such talk. Reina is noted for his avuncular charm and leadership but whilst it is one thing for him to accept being a reserve to Iker Casillas in a squad that wins trophies, it is quite another to suddenly be the reserve for a team in which you have been the unquestioned first choice. It's an intriguing scenario.
I shall be away for a week, dear readers, so be nice to the redoubtable duo of Ed and Elizabeth in my absence. They're all sorts of wonderful and shall be taking up the slack for your errant Irish scribbler. In the interim, stay sane and try to be safe out there, unlike my namesake and his hirsute buddy in the clip below.
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