It’s clear that Pepe Reina wanted out of Liverpool. Whether it was for personal reasons or due to a falling out with manager Brendan Rodgers, Reina appeared to be looking to exit Anfield sooner rather than later. Having spent last year on loan at Napoli playing for ex Kop boss Rafa Benetiz many assumed that he was Italy bound this summer. However Napoli squashed that dream by refusing to pay his required exit fee, leaving Reina and his agent with no other option than to look elsewhere. His salvation came in an unlikely form with German giants Bayern Munich stepping in to sign the player.
Given the opportunity, most players would jump at the chance to join Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga champions dominate German football at present and with new coach Pep Guardiola are one of the main forces in world football. But given Reina’s age, reputation and abilities, is he making the wrong move? The switch screams of desperation and lack of ambition. Reina is moving to Germany full in the knowledge that he will play second fiddle to arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer. He knows that playing time will be extremely limited given Neuers’ status at the club as the undisputed number one. Neuer is a world cup winning goalkeeper who last season missed only four games out of 48 for Bayern and those four were all at the manager’s insistence, in order to give reserves Tom Starke and Lukas Raeder a run out. Neuer rarely gets injured meaning that Reina will likely see the same amount of game time as Starke and Raeder were afforded last season. It would appear that Reina is comfortable with this but again the question is why?
Reina is still a quality goalkeeper and at 31 years old, he is in the prime of his career. Having won the European Championship twice in 2008 and 2012 plus the World Cup in 2010 with Spain, there are few in the game with the pedigree and reputation that Reina has. He could easily be the number one goalkeeper at several clubs across Europe but instead has chosen a season on the bench at Bayern. Yes he was playing second fiddle at Liverpool to Simon Mignolet but his chances of displacing the Belgian were greater than that of knocking Neuer off of his perch. Mignolet had an impressive debut season at Anfield last year but historically the second season tends to prove more troublesome especially if expectations for success are higher than before. Liverpool’s surprise challenge for the league title last year makes them an automatic runner for the new campaign but the pressure will be cranked up to the max meaning that mistakes will happen. As a goalkeeper who balances on the margins between winning and losing, Mignolet faces the more pressure than most and without significant experience at this level could crack fairly spectacularly giving his deputy a shot to stake his place. However Reina decided not to hang around for this to happen instead moving to Germany under a keeper who thrives on high pressure situations.
The only explanation is that Reina has a longer term plan. His dream is to finish his career back in his native Spain so perhaps he sees a move to Bayern as a way to protect that move. Reina has never suggested that there is only one team in Spain he wants to join but the truth is that he pines for a move back to Barcelona, the place he began his career and where his father played for nearly a decade. Barcelona could have signed Pepe this summer but after signing Marc Andre ter Stegen as a direct replacement for Victor Valdes, they turned to Chile’s Claudio Bravo instead of Reina as backup goalkeeper. Ter Stegen is a talented young German goalkeeper but is largely untested at the highest level having spent his entire career to date at Borussia Monchengladbach. Reina’s plan is to keep himself relevant by being at a club that is winning trophies so that when Barcelona comes calling he is ready. Sacrificing a season or two on the bench at Bayern may be worth it for Reina if his plan comes to fruition and he engineers a move to his beloved Barcelona in the next few years. If it doesn’t, his move to German could be the biggest mistake of Reina’s career. Time will indeed tell.