Reina aiming for number one
Published 19/11/2011 | 05:00
THE spirit of Fernando Torres is virtually extinguished at Anfield.
Kenny Dalglish brushed away the Spaniard's memory in five hard little words on Thursday morning -- "nothing to do with us," he said of him -- and, while you'll still find a Torres cocktail available at the bar of Anfield's Boot Room Cafe, it's a cheap, £2.50 drink. Non-alcoholic.
Pepe Reina is not so fast to banish the memory of his best friend, however. The two were next-door neighbours once, in the days of the Rafael Benitez Anfield Spanish armada, and it was from behind the curtains that the goalkeeper would witness the slow disintegration of the striker he first met in 2002, on Spain U-21 duty.
"He would stick to his usual routine and take his dogs out early in the morning on a piece of grass close to our home," Reina wrote in his new autobiography. "I did know that he was really angry because he felt that he had been betrayed by Liverpool before he left."
Reina knew because he was occupying a similar space.
Torres might have erased Liverpool's affection for him indelibly when he said, last January, that "romance in football has gone" and that the badge of his beloved Atletico Madrid was the only one he could kiss, but Reina's public ruminations only three months later suggested that the last high-profile survivor of Anfield's Spanish era had fallen seriously out of love with the place, too.
"I'm not prepared to swear eternal love to anyone. That's impossible," Reina said back then. "I can't say much because I have a contract with Liverpool. But eternal love doesn't exist."
Reina stayed to see the affair through, however, and the light that is back in his eyes as he discusses his side's encounter with Chelsea -- and Torres -- at Stamford Bridge tomorrow afternoon reveals that sometimes the road not taken can be the right one.
Liverpool might not yet have proved that the £110m put at Dalglish's disposal by Fenway Sports Group is a path to silverware, but Reina is convinced they will compete for the title in the short term.
For the first time, he also holds out the prospect of seeing out his career on the Anfield Road.
"I've made it very clear that my family and I love it here and the people are quite happy with me as well. At the moment I see no reason to change," the 29-year-old said.
"We are building a long-term project and we have everything here to be champions some day and, hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later."
The last days of the old regime were "probably the lowest point in Liverpool's history -- that's the reality of it," he added, rationalising how he could have travelled so far in his mind, in the course of eight short months.
"We were nowhere near what this football club deserves. We were just a top six team and that was it. Now we have the money to buy some players and create a squad that is able to compete for the title.
"The hunger and the determination has always been there, but maybe not the quality and the strength of the team and the squad.
"It is very tough to compete with those big clubs spending such an amount of money. Football is like that nowadays.
"Rich owners can come and if they want to buy certain players for a crazy amount they can do it and sort out their problems within one second. It is important for us to have this stability and positivity at the club and among the supporters.
"In my next book I want to be able to say that we won the European Cup five times and the Premier League seven times.
"It has been a good football career so far, but my dream is to be in a championship-winning Liverpool team."
Reina's contentment is testament to the rewards that loyalty to a club can bring, which is more than can be said for the striker, 18 months his junior.
The cold statistical truth is that Torres has scored more league goals for Liverpool in 2011 (four) than he has for Chelsea (three).
The first shot he struck on his debut in blue, in February's 1-0 home defeat to Liverpool, hit a banner midway up the Shed End that commemorates Peter Osgood, a rather more convincing Chelsea No 9, and things have hardly improved much since.
It makes things worse that Torres' record against Chelsea was always excellent, of course: seven goals in eight games. Whichever way you cut it, the numbers look bad. Torres scored 13 times in his last 30 Liverpool games and has managed five in as many fixtures for his new club.
As time passes, the sense grows that the weight on those shoulders will be too much for him. Torres, part prodigy, part folk-hero at Atletico's Estadio Vicente Calderon, was worn down by the pressure there in the end.
"He had too many things weighing down on him, responsibility of the dressing-room, the administration, the fans and the press," his manager from that time, Javier Aguirre, has since reflected. "He had to be involved with everyone and everything."
He always carried Liverpool's troubles on his shoulders, too.
Reina sees it differently. "Fernando is a strong enough character," he insisted. "He was captain at such a young age at Atletico Madrid and had a big responsibility. He was more mature than a young fella of his age. He took everything on his back and could handle it easy because he's mentally strong."
Those in Liverpool who want to consign Torres' memory to history are wrong, according to Reina.
"What we need to remember is that Fernando scored a fantastic number of goals for Liverpool. He was once the people's favourite."
The sentiment has its limits, though. Asked what he will do should he find himself in a one-on-one with Torres tomorrow, Reina grinned and shot back "Break his leg!" in an instant.
"Players come and go, managers come and go, but the club will always stay," he reflected.
And his new next-door neighbour? Luis Suarez. (© Independent News Service)
Chelsea v Liverpool,
Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 4.0