The Greatest Transfers #14: The Best Keeper of the Modern Era

If you missed last week’s edition, then recap who number 15 was here

It’s time for number 14 in our list of the greatest transfers in the history of Liverpool Football Club. This time we head into the modern era where we’ve chosen a Spanish goalkeeper who took Anfield by storm and wormed his way into our hearts forever. That man of course is none other than Pepe Reina.

A product of Barcelona’s academy, Pepe had already made 30 appearances for the Blaugrana by the time he was 20 including two in the UEFA Cup semi final against Liverpool in 2000/01. Unfortunately for Pepe, he wasn’t particularly well-liked and let go by Louis van Gaal in 2002 during the Dutchman’s ill-fated second spell in charge. He would join Villarreal and become one of the best keepers in Spain, helping the little known club in yellow to Champions League qualification in 2005.

Around this time, Liverpool were fresh off an improbably Champions League win but with serious squad reshaping needed. Not since (arguably) Bruce Grobbelaar had Liverpool had a reliable top drawer keeper. David James was a mistake waiting to happen; Sander Westerveld was hardly much better; Chris Kirkland and Scott Carson barely played or impressed and Jerzy Dudek was good but very erratic. Rafael Benitez had chopped and changed throughout the season and knew he wanted a new keeper for 2005/06. He elected to pay £6 million to Villarreal for Reina.

What an inspired choice it proved to be. Reina was a breath of fresh air in goal, commanding his area and exceptionally good with the ball at his feet. Better yet, he was an outstanding shot stopper and won four Golden Glove awards in his first five seasons at the club for most clean sheets in the Premier League. He was the penalty saving hero in the 2006 FA Cup victory over West Ham and would be in goal as the Reds won the 2012 League Cup against Cardiff.

Pepe would go on to play 394 times for Liverpool before his rather abrupt departure in 2013. For whatever reason, Brendan Rodgers just didn’t fancy Reina anymore despite the Spaniard being perfect for his style and replaced with Simon Mignolet. Pepe would leave for Napoli on loan before a permanent departure to Bayern Munich for a season and then he returned to Napoli where he still plays today.

It’s amazing to think that Liverpool were able to pick up a player of Reina’s quality for so cheap and with so little competition at the time. I argued throughout his peak years at Anfield that there was no better goalkeeper than him in the world. He was above Casillas, Valdes and the rest. I’d never really seen a keeper so adept with his feet and so quick with his distribution and, better yet, his passion and love for Liverpool shone through. Let’s never forget his 100 yard dash to celebrate David N’Gog’s goal against Manchester United. I think he might have been the first person there to celebrate.

If only we’d had Pepe these last few years…