Reina warns Reds over possible exits
Liverpool's future is a subject that has dominated debate over the course of two, traumatic years. Yet while optimism about the seasons to come has been restored now that New England Sports Ventures have replaced Tom Hicks and George Gillett as the owners, Jose Reina's appraisal of events at Anfield included a few words of warning about the club's prospects in the short term.
The goalkeeper conceded Liverpool face an uphill task to challenge the five clubs he accepts have stronger squads, placing in doubt an immediate return to their old haunt, the Champions League. The need to strengthen is coupled with his admission that the club's top talents, such as Fernando Torres, could leave without a swift improvement.
The World Cup winner speaks with an authority that comes from his seniority - he has led Liverpool on the rare occasions when both Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are absent - as well as his status as the club's reigning player of the year. Reina is one of the loyalists, a player upon whom honorary Scouser status is bestowed. But he stopped short of committing his own future to the club (shrugging "don't know") and it is a question of progress if world-class talents like Torres are to remain.
"We have to finish this season in a better position than we are at the moment [ninth] and make sure we build for the next years and try to be competitive," Reina told ESPNsoccernet. "If not, it's going to be difficult for them to keep these kind of players."
A top-four finish is, he says: "Possible; why not? But we have to be sure that we deliver better performances otherwise it's going to be really, really, really difficult."
In going from second to seventh last year, Liverpool regressed. Now they risk being left behind with Reina accepting their five major rivals have greater strength in depth. "We are not probably as strong as Man City, Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea and Tottenham can be so that's why we have to make sure we build a better squad," he added.
"At the moment, it's almost impossible to compete for nine months against Chelsea, for example, and that is what I want. The clubs all around England are building proper squads. We have to do the same and we have to be able to compete."
Reina speaks with a sense of realism that Carragher and a searingly honest Gerrard tend to share. Liverpool's start to the season is "not the greatest, obviously. We are not playing well enough, especially away from home, and we have to make sure we improve this aspect otherwise we will be struggling. It's so difficult to go anywhere and beat teams but if we want to be up there at the end of the season, we have to."
While Roy Hodgson's troubled start to life at Anfield has brought criticism of the manager, Reina has stressed the responsibility rests with the players. "Ideas in football are relatively important but what makes a system work are the players. We are the ones who have to show a bit more on the pitch."
As the chants of "Dalglish", heard in the defeats to Blackpool and Stoke, show, Hodgson has yet to win over much of the Liverpool support. But both the club ambassador and the former manager remain more popular than the Londoner.
"Rafa [Benitez] was really beloved in Liverpool," added Reina. "But I think it's about time that the fans get behind Roy and support Roy 100 percent. I don't think it is heavy criticism out there anyway."
Others may beg to disagree. But with Hicks and Gillett and "that mess," as Reina calls it, consigned to Liverpool's past, a new era has begun. Reina was among a group of players to meet John W Henry and Tom Werner, the new powerbrokers. "We were just talking for 20-25 minutes and discussing all the different things at the club," he said. "I think it's positive. They will do good stuff for Liverpool in the future."
The issue, perhaps, is when the future will arrive. Arsene Wenger is among Reina's high-profile admirers and the Manchester City model may offer a greater chance of immediate success that Liverpool's more cash-conscious and organic method.
"I can understand it's going to be a medium, long-term project and you can probably build like [Roberto] Mancini, which is get out the cheque[book] and pay fortunes for players and wages," Reina said. "That is acceptable and you have to respect that but probably is not the best way to do things. I am not blaming Mancini. It's their way, if they win the league nobody will blame them, of course. But these guys, the new owners, are thinking more in the long term and building things little by little, which is understandable."
• Jose Reina was talking to ESPNsoccernet in association with Uhlsport.