IT truly is the end of an era.
The last of Rafa’s Spanish conquistadors has set sail and departed these shores. Undeniably clouded by the ongoing farce surrounding Luis Suarez, the departure of the greatest last guardian of Liverpool’s defence for a generation has been greeted by deafening silence.
Pepe deserves more than this.
He’s seen it all from his vantage point in goal; the corrosion of a burgeoning European force into mid-table mediocrity. How indeed would you react to seeing a central midfield of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano degrade into Christian Poulsen and then Charlie Adam within a matter of 24 months?
I’d be on the first plane home. That Pepe has lasted four years since the watershed moment of Alonso’s departure speaks volumes of not solely his loyalty, but his affection for this football club.
However, his displacement and departure has been met with more acclaim than condemnation.
Past it, they say. Not punching his weight. Not economically viable. The cold statistical analysis may well point to a decent bit of long-term business from the club; but I know that I will miss the sight of Pepe pounding towards the Kop and the sound of his boot kicking against the foot of the post.
It’s only natural to be so attached to someone who inspired such consistency and played a significant part in the club’s most recent halcyon days; he was a totemic figure, both between the sticks and in the dressing room.
Sentimentality is a dangerous by-product of club football; it can distort both memories and expectations.
But, I for one am optimistic about Simon Mignolet, and believe he can have a similarly rejuvenating effect on Liverpool’s defence as Reina did in 2005.
And that’s the point – this is a cyclical process, and football is a cyclical sport.
Reina set such a high standard with three consecutive Golden Glove awards between 2006 and 2008, one that was always improbably maintainable.
It had always felt in the past that he would choose his own time to leave, indeed he nearly did during the darkest of days in the 2010-11 season, but he hung tight. And now he has been pushed, after his unwillingness to jump.
He showed more loyalty to the football club than any of his compatriots, and for that he deserves major credit. He is a self-proclaimed adopted scouser, in the same vein as Dirk Kuyt. He took the club to heart more than that Torres. More than even Saint Alonso.
He put faith in FSG and Kenny Dalglish, that they could restore the club to its pre-2009 position, as many of us supporters did. That promise failed to materialise then, and is still as unattainable now. But you won’t hear him hark on about broken promises, or a desire for the whole truth to come out.
He was not merely a goalkeeper, but an ebullient character and personality; one whose sheer unbridled joy which met a goal has been captured and emblazoned across many an iconic image of the club’s recent heyday.
Who could forget his pitch long sprint to embrace David N’gog after he secured what seemed, at the time, a momentous victory over Manchester United? Or better yet, his faux throttle on Arjen Robben’s face in February 2006? – I sure hope Simon Mignolet is just as photogenic and dynamic.
In amongst them, though, the clangers – the misjudgement at Manchester City last season, the last minute fumble on the first day of the 2010-11 season against Arsenal and most comically the Andy Johnson save at Goodison in 2006, which he decided to drop on his head.
But the inspirational outshone the embarrassing, and will define how he is remembered in years to come.
The penalty shoot-out saves against West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup Final, and against Chelsea in the Champions League semi final, would be the pinnacle of any goalkeeper’s career.
He should have won more. You’d be forgiven for doing a double take when you scroll down his honours list. He’s won more trophies with Spain as a substitute goalkeeper than he racked up in 394 appearances for Liverpool – the Super Cup and Community Shield really don’t count.
Pepe deserved more for his loyalty to the club. But it would be fickle to bemoan the club for jettisoning a hero, when we are so ready to hound out a traitor.
Vamos a echar de menos, Pepe.