In July 2006, Liverpool signed José Manuel "Pepe" Reina from Villarreal for £6 million and at the time little was known of the goalkeeper that Rafa Benitez heralded as "the best goalkeeper in Spain."
Liverpool fans took Benitez’s claims with a pinch on salt. After all this meant that the Reds had just signed a stopper that was being proclaimed as better than Iker Casillas of Real Madrid and Victor Valdés of Barcelona!
Pepe Reina did however come to Liverpool with an undisputed reputation of being one of the best penalty savers in the business.
Talking of saving penalties, it was only a few months earlier, in May 2005, that Jerzey Dudek was establishing himself as one of Liverpool Football Club’s goalkeeping legends, with his penalty saves in the Champions League final on that memorable night in Istanbul.
Along with millions of others, Pepe Reina watched Liverpool’s No. 1 at the time emulate Bruce Grobbelaar’s antics on the goalline during the penalty shoot to win the Champions League for Liverpool for the fifth time.
Having secured himself firmly in the hearts of Liverpool fans, Dudek never again played for the Reds on a consistent basis, only appearing in cup-ties and other occasional appearances before ironically leaving for his replacement's hometown club of Real Madrid.
Despite taking the place of an obvious hero of the Kop, Reina quickly showed the fans that Liverpool’s goalkeeping gloves were in good hands.
In his debut season, the new Reds stopper broke club record after club record. He eclipsed David James’ previous record of five successive clean sheets in a Premier League game, by shutting out Premier league opposition an amazing eight consecutive times. During that record breaking run, Reina posted a stunning Liverpool Football Club record by keeping 11 successive clean sheets.
In April 2006, Pepe Reina celebrated his 50th appearance in goal for the Reds with yet another shut out, thereby beating Ray Clemence’s club record of the least number of goals conceded by a Liverpool stopper in his first 50 games. Reina, astonishingly only had to pick the ball out of his net on 29 occasions whereas Clemence performed this task on 32 occasions.
In his first season in English football, Pepe Reina won the Premier League’s Golden Glove, the league’s top award for a goalkeeper, keeping a remarkable 20 clean sheets.
The Spanish stopper’s first season at Liverpool culminated in the FA Cup Final against West Ham. In a game forever to become known as the ‘Gerrard Final’, it was equally Pepe Reina’s final.
Steven Gerrard’s stunning strike took the final into extra time and from then on it was the Pepe Reina show. During extra time, the Red’s stopper pulled of a number of crucial saves that kept Liverpool’s Cup dream alive, but it was his saving three of West Ham's four penalties that won the FA Cup for Liverpool.
The following season again saw the Spaniard and Liverpool involved in a penalty shoot out, this time in the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea. And once again, the Red's stopper showed his expertise in saving spot kicks, saving two of Chelsea's three penalty kicks.
For a second successive year Pepe Reina picked up the Premier League's Golden Glove Award, keeping 19 clean sheets that season.
A half century of shut outs was achieved in 2008 in only 92 Premier League appearances, beating the previous league record by three games.
Reina was once again awarded the Premier League's Golden Glove Award for a third consecutive time, this time keeping 18 clean sheets.
In March of this year, the Spaniard became the fastest goalkeeper in Liverpool history to keep 100 clean sheets, a feat he achieve in only 197 appearance for the Reds in all competitions.
In what has been a troubled season to date, Pepe Reina has been the rock in an otherwise uncharacteristically shaky defense. He has pulled off fantastic saves, where it seemed inevitable that the opposition would score and kept his team-mates in games they would otherwise have been out of.
In the Merseyside derby last weekend, Reina pulled off a stunning double save, first denying Tim Cahill's header that seemed destined for the back of the net, then saving from Fellaini’s follow-up from close range.
With the Red's protecting a slender lead and Everton piling forward, Liverpool were under pressure most of the second half, an equalizer would have turned the game around. It may have led to Everton pushing on to score the winner if they had gotten level.
The agility, positioning and concentration of Reina allowed Liverpool not only to repel waves of Everton attacks, but to break away and grab a second which effectively killed off the game, giving Liverpool a much needed, if not altogether deserved, three points.
Pepe Reina has not only become a towering presence on the pitch. Off the field, he has become one of the most liked members of the squad. Always up for a laugh and a joke, the Spaniard is always seen smiling with teammates. He even insists that having settled so well at Liverpool, his daughter is a real Scoucer!
His passion, love and commitment to the Liverpool cause was epitomized in the victory over Manchester United in October. When David Ngog scored Liverpool's second goal in the 90th minute, Pepe Reina sprinted the entire length of Anfield to jump on Ngog in celebration. What was all the more impressive was that he was the first Liverpool player to reach the young Frenchman!
In an otherwise turbulent start to the current season, one of the few Liverpool players to still be performing to the extremely high standards demanded by Rafa Benitez and the fans, has been Pepe Reina.
If it were not for our superb Spanish stopper, Liverpool's plight would have been far worse than it is now. Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool team and fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to Reina for keeping their season alive.
Pepe Reina was and is, but hopefully won't always be, Liverpool's unsung hero.
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