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Pepe Reina on the verge of Retiring at 41

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localny

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From the Athletic
Pepe Reina: Fears over ‘void’ in retirement, ‘regret’ on Liverpool exit, coaching ambitions

Pepe Reina takes a moment as he ponders the impending reality of life after hanging up his gloves.

“I won’t lie to you,” he says. “I can’t say I’m not afraid, I can’t say I don’t think there will be a void that I won’t be able to fill.

“The truth is I don’t know. Football has been a way of life for me for so long. You need to prepare yourself and I know it’s not going to be easy.”

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During an extensive interview with The Athletic, the Spanish goalkeeper reflects on a remarkable career spanning 23 years, what’s enabled him to stay at the top for so long, keeping his promise to return to Villarreal, his plans to move into management, and his enduring bond with Liverpool.

It’s been some journey for Reina since he graduated from Barcelona’s La Masia academy and made his senior debut alongside the likes of Pep Guardiola, Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert against Celta Vigo in December 2000.


Reina began his career at Barcelona (Phil Cole /Allsport)

He flourished after moving to Villarreal, helping them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history before Rafael Benitez took him to Anfield in 2005.

Following eight seasons as Liverpool’s No 1, he represented Napoli (initially on loan and later on a permanent basis), Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Aston Villa and Lazio before rejoining Villarreal in the summer of 2022.

In May, he played the 1,000th competitive game of his professional career when they faced Cadiz in La Liga. The 41-year-old’s contract runs until the summer of 2024.

“Maybe this is my last season,” he says. “Let’s just enjoy this year and then we’ll talk about that. As long as I can be helpful for the club, then I’ll be around. It’s up to them to decide. I’m totally in their hands.”

Reina’s role has changed this season. With Villarreal putting their faith in Denmark Under-21s international Filip Jorgensen in La Liga, the veteran goalkeeper has had to settle for game time in the Europa League.

In his most recent appearance, Reina was the hero with a stoppage-time penalty save from Martin Terrier as Pacheta’s side held on to seal a 1-0 victory over French outfit Rennes at Estadio de la Ceramica. He shed tears of joy in the celebrations that followed as he was mobbed by his team-mates.

“It was huge for me, I couldn’t hold it in, I was very emotional,” he says.

“Retirement is around the corner, so I appreciate and enjoy everything that bit more. You know every game could be your last.

“Nowadays, we all know each other — the penalty takers and the goalies. We have so much information. We all study. But when a penalty is taken in the right way, there is no chance for a goalkeeper. Just in case it’s not, you have to be prepared.

“It was helpful for me that it was like five minutes between the referee making the decision and the player taking it. Many doubts probably went through his mind.

“I feel very lucky to still be playing at this level. I’m here to help and it’s my work to push Filip in the right way. He’s growing. He’s a very talented young keeper who will be very important for the club in the next years.”

What’s been the secret to his longevity?

“I love what I do. This is my passion. I dedicate all my senses to be better. There are a lot of sacrifices that people don’t see, but I think my dedication over the years has paid off.

“I’m thankful I haven’t had many injuries. I’m thankful to my wife and kids for always supporting me and being there in the tougher moments.

“The role of a keeper has evolved during my career. More and more we need to play with the ball at our feet — more of a goalplayer than a goalkeeper — but that’s always suited me.

“I’d like to say I feel the same physically as 10 years ago, but the biggest difference is probably the recovery time needed after training and games.

“My daily plan is: I arrive at 9am, training, go to the gym, lunch, have a nap and then collect my kids from school. It’s almost like an office schedule. I spend six or seven hours a day here at the training ground.”

What hasn’t changed over the years is the feeling in the pit of his stomach during matches.

“Oh yeah, I still have that fear about making mistakes, but it’s a positive fear, it drives you on,” he explains. “That sense of responsibility gets higher. You know everyone is waiting for that one mistake, one bad performance so they can say: ‘Ah, you’re not good enough anymore, you’re too old’. My motivation now is even greater.”


Only Ray Clemence (323) and Bruce Grobbelaar (267) have kept more clean sheets in Liverpool’s history than Reina’s tally of 177.

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Signed by Benitez for £6million ($7.3m) at the age of 22 in 2005, Reina won the Premier LeagueGolden Glove in each of his first three seasons at Anfield.

In clocking up 50 clean sheets in his first 92 league games, he beat the club record previously held by Clemence (95 matches).

Reina was also the first goalkeeper in the Premier League era to record 20 or more clean sheets in different campaigns — an achievement since matched by Alisson and Ederson.

“Once a Red, always a Red,” he smiles.

“There are some clubs that leave a mark on your heart and your soul. I will forever be grateful to Liverpool as a club and as a city.

“The people were amazing to me. It was the best time of my career. Thanks to my team-mates, the numbers are still up there with the best in the history of the club and the Premier League.”

Reina was the hero in the 2006 FA Cup final shootout triumph over West Ham and six years later he lifted the League Cup at Wembley after victory over Cardiff City on penalties.


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However, other prizes with Liverpool narrowly eluded him. Benitez’s side were beaten by AC Milan in the 2007 Champions League final in Athens and they lost out to Manchester United in the Premier League title race in 2008-09.

“We probably deserved at least one league title, but United were so strong,” he says. “We only lost two league games all season but it wasn’t enough.

“The greatest strength of Liverpool is their people and I know how much they wanted the league title after so long. What they have achieved under Jurgen Klopp is unbelievable.

“Jurgen’s passion and personality, his idea of how football should be played, makes him the perfect fit for Liverpool. It’s how he understands football and how deep he goes in terms of connecting with his players. He gets the best out of people. You can always learn a lot from listening to him.”

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There’s also great respect for the current Anfield No 1: “Alisson’s performances over the past five years have been incredible. He has helped the team to grow and become one of the best keepers in the world. He has lifted some titles, which is the most important thing, and written his name into the history of Liverpool.”

The manner of Reina’s exit from Liverpool in the summer of 2013 left a sour taste. He had been heavily linked with a return to Barcelona, but that move failed to materialise after Victor Valdes opted to stay put.

By then, Brendan Rodgers had already decided to sign Simon Mignolet from Sunderland and Reina was upset that Liverpool agreed to loan him to Napoli without asking him first. He didn’t get the chance to say a proper goodbye.

“It hurt at the time but that’s football,” he says. “I told Brendan that if I wasn’t going to Barcelona, then I wanted to be at Liverpool.

Mignolet replaced Reina at Anfield when Rodgers was in charge (Andrew

“Leaving that way is something I regret, but I’ll always be grateful to Liverpool for what they did for me. I am very proud of what I achieved there.

“I hope with all my energy that our paths cross in the Europa League this season. I would be the happiest man in the world.

“I’ve only been back to Anfield once as a player and that was with Aston Villa during the pandemic without fans there. I felt like I missed out on something really big, but there’s still time.

“If it doesn’t happen before I retire, I’ll go back as a supporter and enjoy the atmosphere.”

Lucas Leiva is the former Liverpool team-mate he’s closest to. They were neighbours in Rome during their time at Lazio together.

“It’s something that goes beyond football and I love him. Our wives and kids get on so well, too. The best part of football is the friendships you form,” he says.

Reina won the Coppa Italia with Napoli in 2013-14 and was part of Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga-winning squad the following season.


The presence of Iker Casillas restricted him to 36 caps for Spain, but he had the thrill of being part of their 2010 World Cup-winning squad, as well as the European Championship triumphs either side of that historic achievement.

There have been some controversies along the way. In 2020, he showed his support for anti-lockdown protests in Madrid organised by right-wing political party Vox. The following year, he described the left-wing party Podemos as “the worst thing that has happened to Spain in the last 40 years”.

Earlier this year, Reina was criticised for his comments about Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr when he said “the less you provoke rival fans and the less you protest to the referee, the more respect you will have”. However, the ’keeper clarified that he viewed racist abuse as abhorrent and believed those responsible should be banned.

This interview was organised through Villarreal on the basis it was to talk about his playing career and plans for the future. Reina returned to the Castellon province in eastern Spain when he was a free agent in the summer of 2022 — some 17 years after leaving Villarreal for Liverpool.

“This club has been in my heart since I first arrived in 2002,” he says.

“I made a promise when I left three years later that I would come back one day. I just didn’t know how or when. I feel fortunate that I was able to get it done. It’s really beautiful the way things worked out for me and my family.”


Moving into management appeals to Reina and he has already enrolled on the UEFA B Licence coaching course through the Welsh FA. There are lessons online every Monday.

“Hopefully by January I will have my B Licence, so next year if I decide to hang up my gloves, I can begin as a manager in the academy or as an assistant,” he says. “I want to be a manager, not a goalie coach. I admire former keepers like (Julen) Lopetegui and Nuno (Espirito Santo), who have gone down that road.”


Reina isn’t short of inspiration given the coaches he has worked with.

“Yeah, I’ve been lucky with Benitez, (Maurizio) Sarri, (Pep) Guardiola and (Gennaro) Gattuso, lots of big names. You try to combine the best bits of all of them and try to avoid the worst bits.


Reina and Guardiola chat during their time together at Bayern (Guenter Schiffmann/AFP via Getty Images)

“Even when I played with Pep at Barcelona many years ago, you could see it would be natural for him. He was the manager on the field. Now he’s one of the best managers ever.”

Reina has been close friends with Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta since they came through Barcelona’s La Masia academy together as teenagers.

“When Mikel took over, they needed something really big to happen to turn things around and he’s done a tremendous job.

“He prepared himself in the best possible way by working with Pep for three years after retirement. He worked with the master. You can see there are some things that are the same as Pep. There are some people you just know are going to be great when they move into coaching and Mikel was one of them.”

Reina is hoping to follow a similar path.

“It’s all about preparing myself for life after playing,” he adds. “Maybe I’ll be back at Anfield one day as a manager. Football is what I love to do more than anything. I want to keep that going
 
One of Rafa's best signings imo. At the time he probably was the best keeper I had seen play for us. Better than Bruce G imo.
Will always remember the penalties he saved
Really wish him a happy retirement.
 
Pepe Reina playing for Liverpool.
Was the first time in my entire life that I could unironically say that Liverpool had a good reliable goalkeeper without someone rolling their eyes.

It was truly a new experience for me!
 
One of Rafa's best signings imo. At the time he probably was the best keeper I had seen play for us. Better than Bruce G imo.
Will always remember the penalties he saved
Really wish him a happy retirement.

Definitely one of Benitez's best signings.

I wouldn't say he was better than Grobbelaar but those two and Alisson are the best keepers 3 I've seen play for us.

All of the others were pretty ropey, but still.
 
Definitely one of Benitez's best signings.

I wouldn't say he was better than Grobbelaar but those two and Alisson are the best keepers 3 I've seen play for us.

All of the others were pretty ropey, but still.

Last bit's too sweeping IMHO. Clem wasn't, Dudek wasn't till GH destroyed his confidence after he had one admittedly poor game against the Mancs and Tommy Lawrence in Shanks' day wasn't either, though we have had a number of others who were ordinary at best.

Pepe Reina was more consistent than Juicy Brucie. The latter could bring off saves which few other keepers would even have attempted but he could also make a pig's ear of some easier ones. Not everyone will agree with me but on balance I'd prefer Reina.
 
Last bit's too sweeping IMHO. Clem wasn't, Dudek wasn't till GH destroyed his confidence after he had one admittedly poor game against the Mancs and Tommy Lawrence in Shanks' day wasn't either, though we have had a number of others who were ordinary at best.

Pepe Reina was more consistent than Juicy Brucie. The latter could bring off saves which few other keepers would even have attempted but he could also make a pig's ear of some easier ones. Not everyone will agree with me but on balance I'd prefer Reina.

Ah, I wouldn't dream of including Clemence or Lawrence in the ropey list! They were before my time, just.

I agree that Grobbelaar wasn't exactly reliable, but the fact that he won so much, and that he could be so brilliant on his day means he just shades it over Reina.

Dudek was probably best of the rest, and was a clear improvement on Westerveld (who did have his moments, to be fair), but it was also a clear improvement when Reina replaced him.
 
The Judge has me on Tommy Lawrence but I grew up watching Liverpool slowly grow dominant with our amazing back four(s) in front of Ray Clemence. He competed with Jimmy Rimmer and Peter Shilton for the England #1 shirt and were it not for the Daglish goal he may have had more caps before Shilton made the shirt his own. We (England) had an embarrassment of riches back then.


Bruce was a force of nature and until Reina came along we discovered what it was like to have an average keeper (James, Westerweld, Brad etc). Alison, however, is a whole different thing. He's not just the best in the EPL (1st Div), he's the best there is.
 
I completely forgot about Friedel! That was a weird one, because he ended up being pretty good elsewhere.
 
For a long time it would have been Clem, but Alisson gets my vote for the All Time XI now.

IMO Brad Friedel was decent all along and gets more criticism than he personally deserved - all too often he got zero help from the defence in front of him.
 
I believe that in Zimbabwe there's a photo of Grobbelaar in the dictionary under the phrase loose cannon.
 
Shame how it ended for Pepe in his last few seasons but a brilliant keeper, his quick throws and kicks to release Torres and co were extraordinary.
 
I believe that in Zimbabwe there's a photo of Grobbelaar in the dictionary under the phrase loose cannon.

Saw a very revealing interview with Brucie once in which he was very open about his approach to footy and to life in general. He spoke about his time in the Selous Scouts, Rhodesia's (Zimbabwe's as was) equivalent of the SAS, and referred to what he'd had both to do and to witness when they were fighting guerrillas and Cuban troops. There was quite a haunted look on his face as he was saying that, after that little lot, nothing in civvy life ever seemed as important as it had before.
 
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