Liverpool made another big signing yesterday when Pepe Reina
put his mark on a deal that will run for five years. As exciting as links with
Samuel Eto'o and Carlos Tevez might be, it's probably more important that
Liverpool ensure established quality stays on. Xabi Alonso, who has been
strongly linked with Barcelona and Momo Sissoko, who has been strongly linked
with Juventus are also both expected to sign the new deals they've been
In many ways Reina
could be described as the key signing of all those who are to get new deals. Good
goalkeepers are hard to find, especially ones who are confident in the
Premiership. Pepe has had a couple of moments he'd rather forget, as all
goalkeepers do, but he's always bounced straight back. Reds boss Rafa Benitez
was delighted: "We knew we needed to talk with a number of our players and Pepe
was one of them. He's had two good years with us and because of his age we knew
we had to sort out a long contract. I'm really pleased that he has signed and I
think it sends out a message to everyone that we are preparing our team for
both the present and for the future."
As Rafa pointed out, it's important that defenders feel they
can trust their keeper: "Pepe's record at Liverpool is very good. He's had a
lot of clean sheets and you can see the confidence the defenders have in him.
When he plays the defenders look very comfortable and that is so important."
Reina is, according to Rafa, the best goalkeeper in his own
country, and there is nobody better in this country: "I've said before that he's the best goalkeeper
in Spain but he's also one of the best in the world. In this country there are
a couple of goalkeepers at the very top level and he is one of them."
Rafa had already signed Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard
onto new four-year deals, and so if he can get the midfield pair of Xabi and
Momo to sign he'll be pleased with the work done on retaining the important
existing members of the squad. His reported worries about the lack of urgency
from the owners and the chief executive will be over on that score – but then
it moves onto signing players who will add to the squad. It's not exactly a
secret that Rafa is looking at his striking options in the hope of improving
them. One player linked for some time is Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o.
Eto'o was clearly unhappy with Barcelona earlier in the
season after public arguments with his coach hit the headlines, but the player's
agent says Eto'o is happy there now. Jose Maria Mesalles was speaking after
being asked about rumours that Eto'o had been spotted at John Lennon Airport in
Liverpool on Monday: "It is just a huge lie. Eto'o was in Belgium with the
Cameroon squad on Monday night. We do not understand why these false stories
keep appearing. The club knows all too well that he is very happy at Barcelona
and wants to stay."
Obviously players are not meant to know about interest from
other clubs until their own club has told them. That's the theory, but agents
are of course paid to keep their clients informed of all their options.
Mesalles was making sure that in public at least, he was keeping to the rules: "He
has a very good contract and wants to comply with that. We are not going to
listen to any offers. The club will be the one that receives the offers, we
never hear about them first."
Whether Rafa will have to sell before he can buy remains to
be seen, the new owners have promised publicly that they'll give Rafa all he
needs to see his plans come to life, but doubts about this have been leaking
out since before the end of the season. But even if he isn't forced to sell he
will listen to offers on certain players. One of those is Craig Bellamy, who he
will only sell if he can make a good profit on the £6m paid a year ago. West Ham
are reported to have offered £70k-a-week wages to the player, who would cost
upwards of £9m. One newspaper even linked him with a move back to Newcastle, now
that the old regime he'd fallen out with are gone and going.
Meanwhile Pepe Reina gave the official LFC website his thoughs about his new deal: "I am very happy with this contract. It was always my wish to sign a new
deal because this is a good club which is looking forward to a very ambitious
and attractive project. The details of the contract were very straightforward.
Rick Parry and the American owners made everything easy and in the end it was a
good solution for the club and a good solution for me."
It wasn't just the financial aspects of the deal that made
him sign though: "I spoke with Rafa and his thoughts for the future really
excited me. He has ambitions for the team which I want to be part of and I'm
sure the other players feel the same. The idea now for all of us is to keep
winning matches and to challenge for titles."
He seriously wants to see number nineteen arrive at the
club: "Our fans deserve the league title and that's what we'll be looking for.
Seventeen years without winning it is far too long for this club and that's why
our biggest target next year has to be the Premiership."
He's also excited about the new stadium: "It was definitely
one of the reasons behind the decision. In an ideal world we'd stay at Anfield
but we understand we have to move for a number of reasons. I just hope we can
have the same atmosphere in the new stadium. I'm so excited at the thought of
being part of it." Since taking over the club the new owners have reviewed
those plans and once the council have been formally shown the changes the
details will be revealed to the public.