If it wasn't an official exit before, rumors over the past few days seem to indicate that Pepe Reina will no longer be a Liverpool player come season's end, with a tentative deal apparently reached to see the Spanish goalkeeper return to Barcelona as something close to their number one. It's an unsurprising rumor, and while the destination might not be a certainty, a permanent move away from Merseyside seems to be a lock. And, as things stand for both Reina and Liverpool, it's not entirely unwelcome, either.
Like many others, I have a strong sentimental attachment to Reina, most of which I outlined here back in the spring when it appeared clear that he would be headed elsewhere over the summer. That he eventually did only strengthened the emotional connection; as much as anyone else over the past few seasons, he epitomized what it meant to be a Liverpool player. Feel free to make a joke about fading form and lack of relevance here, but for the club's supporters, Pepe Reina was Liverpool for better or worse, and the prospect of him leaving was a difficult concept to grasp.
Only now that he's gone, even though it's temporarily for now, I'm not really too bothered, especially considering the way the early season has unfolded. Once again, it's all tied up in romance, with the younger, sleeker model replacing the fading veteran and having nothing short of a perfect start. Three clean sheets, a penalty double-save that's the early contender for the defining moment of the season, and another late save to seal three points at Villa Park, and all of a sudden it's like Simon Mignolet is the only goalkeeper that Liverpool have ever needed.
That's dismissive and reductive of the work that Reina did during his time at Anfield, of course, and Mignolet will still have a hell of a lot to do if he's going to fill the emotional void left by Reina's departure. Early returns are exceedingly positive, but the body of work pales in comparison to what Pepe Reina produced. Simon Mignolet is the man of the moment, Pepe Reina, declining form and all, has been the man for the last eight seasons.
But whether or not the fresh round of Barcelona rumors have any weight to them, his time at Liverpool is surely at an end both emotionally and practically. He's deserving of the remembrances and the reservations about what his exit might have meant, just as Liverpool--with Simon Mignolet as number one--now deserve to do what they feel is best for the club moving forward.