Reina: We're back where we belong after darkest days in club's history

 

Once foreign players have become reasonably fluent in English, it is always interesting to note which idiomatic phrases they pick up. Jose "Pepe" Reina must have been listening to former Liverpool stalwart Mark Lawrenson, for he is fond of the pundit's "happy days".

It is not a phrase that either would have used of the club in the past few years, struggling with ownership issues that were reflected on the field; no trophy has been won since Reina's saves in a penalty shoot-out delivered the 2006 FA Cup.

Now, after five barren seasons, missing out on European football for the first time in a decade and sacking a manager after the shortest reign in the club's history, happy days may just be here again. It will be a happy Sunday if they can defeat Cardiff City today at Wembley, a venue the club have not frequented since it was rebuilt, then reopened in 2007.

"Things have got better and this is a trophy we can win, so happy days," Reina says. "We always hoped we could return in a positive way and get ourselves back on the trophies track. We need to be patient, but we also needed better players to be competitive. The owners thought so too and they spent good money in the summer.

"As a result we have made some improvement. We are in the right way now. We want to be fighting for titles, fighting to reach Wembley. I think steps have been taken to try to get the club back to where it belongs and that is basically why I am here today, and the same goes for many of my team-mates. We believe in this project and hopefully it will deliver some trophies."

As Reina implies, confidence in the "project" of the previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett was never deep nor widespread. "It was a dark moment in Liverpool's history," he says of the period in which they sank from having finished second in the Premier League to falling out of the top six.

"It was one of the worst moments in Liverpool's whole history. Fortunately the new owners came along with better ideas and a new project on the table. We all believe in it and I hope the supporters do. I think they understood it needed a bit of patience but with luck we may be able to start to deliver [today]."

Reina admits that had the dark days continued much longer, "I probably wouldn't still be here". But here he is, the undisputed No 1 at Anfield, almost seven years after Rafa Benitez ruthlessly brought him in from Villarreal in 2005 to displace Jerzy Dudek, who had just helped the team win the European Cup.

It would have been reasonable to assume that an FA Cup win in his first season would be the first of many trophies, yet he has remained merely on a par with David James in terms of honours, trailing behind Dudek, Sander Westerveld and the Sixties hero Tommy Lawrence, let alone those serial winners Ray Clemence and Bruce Grobbelaar.

Then there is a manager who consciously presents himself as heir to a proud club history – he won the League Cup four seasons in a row. Reina says of Kenny Dalglish: "It was a great appointment from the new owners and it was important. We all know what Kenny means to Liverpool. He's been the greatest of all time for us and that's why the people believe even more in the project and why people will have a little more patience, that Kenny can deliver us titles as he did when he was a player and when he was a manager the first time."

Reina might have been expected to hold the League Cup in as little regard as, say, Arsène Wenger does. But there are echoes of a Steven Gerrard or a Jamie Carragher when he says: "It is a massive fixture for us. A trophy is a trophy, all day long".

Keeping up with the keepers

Tommy Lawrence (1957-71, 390 appearances)

League 1964, 1966; FA Cup 1965

Ray Clemence (1967-81, 665 apps)

European Cup 1977, 1978, 1981; Uefa Cup 1973, 1976; League 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980; FA Cup 1974; League Cup 1981

Bruce Grobbelaar (1981-94, 628 apps)

European Cup 1984; League 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990; FA Cup 1986, 1989, 1992; League Cup 1982, 1983, 1984

David James (1992-99, 277 apps)

League Cup 1995

Sander Westerveld (1999-2001, 103 apps)

Uefa Cup 2001; FA Cup 2001; League Cup 2001

Jerzy Dudek (2001-07, 186 apps)

European Cup 2005; FA Cup 2006*; League Cup 2003

Pepe Reina (2005-current, 342 apps)

FA Cup 2006

*unused substitute

The road to Wembley

Cardiff City

1st round (a) v Oxford Utd: won 3-1 aet

2nd round (h) v Huddersfield Town: won 5-3 aet

3rd round (h) v Leicester City: drew 2-2 (aet; won 7-6 on pens)

4th round (h) v Burnley: won 1-0

Quarter-final (h) v Blackburn Rovers: won 2-0

Semi-final 1st leg (a) v Crystal Palace: lost 1-0.

2nd leg (h): won 1-0 (1-1 agg; aet; won 3-1 on pens)

Liverpool

1st round: bye

2nd round (a) v Exeter City: won 3-1

3rd round (a) v Brighton & Hove Albion: won 2-1

4th round (a) v Stoke City: won 2-1

Quarter-final (a) v Chelsea: won 2-0

Semi-final 1st leg (a) v Manchester City: won 1-0.

2nd leg (h): drew 2-2 (won 3-2 agg)

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