It's no secret right now that Pepe Reina's future is very much in the air right now. On loan from Liverpool until the end of the season, Napoli need to figure out if they want to keep him or not, and with the end of the season fast approaching they need to do it soon.
The stumbling block is that right now there's too many scenarios at play. Without a purchase clause in the loan, it's unlikely at best that Napoli can or will secure a permanent transfer for Reina before the loan expires and he returns to Liverpool. With a low buyout clause inserted in to his contract (reportedly €5 around million) before the loan was agreed to, any big club in need of a goalkeeper will be lining up to try to secure his services.
The issue, however, is that Reina isn't the world-beating keeper that he once was. Despite the belief that goalkeepers always peak in their 30's and last until they're 40, the truth is that many peak in their mid-20's and fall off hard in their early 30's. Based on what we've seen of him the last few years, Reina falls much more in to the latter category; he was replaced at Liverpool because his performances had degraded so far from his peak in his first few years at Anfield, and we've all seen too many examples of him going crazy or making huge mistakes this season to ignore that decline.
Don't misjudge this, though: Reina is still a very good goalkeeper. He commands his box very well, and his distribution is second to none. The problem is that his flaws in decision making and one-on-one situations are growing more exposed as time goes on, and as a result this is probably his last chance to get a good deal with a Champions League calibre club.
With that in mind, what are the possibilities for Reina's future?
Return To Napoli
It certainly makes sense for Reina to come back to Naples on a number of levels. He knows and likes Rafa Benitez, knows and likes the city, and knows and (supposedly) likes the club. With Rafael Cabral likely out for the start of next season, Napoli certainly needs a goalkeeper to carry the torch while the Brazilian recovers and during the time that it takes him to get readjusted and regain confidence in his surgically repaired knee.
The trouble is, that need makes a long-term investment unnecessary, especially if Napoli's medical staff are confident that Rafael will come back to the full luster he was displaying before his injury. As explosive movement was never part of his game, there's little reason to think that he won't, so spending that money and paying Reina what's sure to be high wages over several years just doesn't make sense in a world where Financial Fair Play is a factor.
What would make the deal make sense for Napoli is if they can get another loan for the Spaniard, but with Reina eager to get away from Liverpool on a permanent basis, that seems unlikely. So unless they get Reina to significantly lower his wages and accept a second-fiddle role past the first few months of his deal, he probably winds up elsewhere. With all this in mind, it just doesn't feel likely at all that Reina winds up back in Naples, at least knowing what we know now.
Return To Liverpool
HAH. No. That bridge got charred, broken to pieces, and then napalmed for good measure months ago. Next.
Return To Spain
This is where things get interesting. Part of why Liverpool was so willing to move on from Reina last year, besides his precipitous decline in form, was that he spent all summer long pining for a move back home to Barcelona. Reina is a product of Barca's famous La Masia academy system, and with Victor Valdes getting up in years, wanting a new experience, and rapidly running out of contract, a job was seemingly open for him to grab.
Despite Reina's desire, though, a move never materialized. Now with Marc Andre Ter Stegen agreed to move there this summer, Barca getting slapped with a transfer ban (at least for now), and seemingly no interest at all from his hometown club in creating such a reunion, it looks like Reina is pretty much SOL.
There's still some chance that Reina ends up back at home, though. It seems somewhat likely that Barca's transfer ban will be lifted, at least to some extent, based on UEFA's previous history with similar bans (hi Chelsea!). And while Ter Stegen is very talented, he's also very young and, well, not Spanish, so having a veteran familiar with the system and style to show him the ropes could be important to Barcelona's decision-makers. With Valdes and his backup, Jose Manuel Pinto, both looking likely to leave this summer, that opens the door to Reina and Barca's appreciation of bringing home their academy products. Its only got a small chance of happening, but it's one that needs to be acknowledged.
A Journey Elsewhere
While Napoli and Barca are the two obvious destinations for Reina, there's a few others that stand out. Just looking in Italy, AS Roma are a fairly obvious fit; they'll be back in the Champions League for the first time in years, and will need a better keeper than Morgan De Sanctis to get the job done. Reina will almost certainly be the best netminder on the market, so why not bring in the man who already replaced De Sanctis once?
Staying in Italy, AC Milan seem like a possibility as well, albeit a small one. They can't offer Champions League football next year (insert maniacal cackling here), but with a couple smart purchases they could be right back in the hunt. With Christian Abbiati nearing the end of his career and Marco Amelia being not very good, Reina could help them accomplish that goal. Not the most desirable scenario for Napoli fans, but there it is.
Another standout option is AS Monaco in France. Long assumed to be the destination of Victor Valdes after this season, those plans have all but certainly been scuppered after Valdes' knee injury, which will keep him out for at least seven months. As one of the richest clubs in Europe, Monaco certainly have the money to pay Reina's wages, and will be in the Champions League next season. It makes too much sense not to consider. Expect to see plenty of links between the rising French club and Reina in the coming months.
This won't be a short or an easy process. In fact, thanks to his high wages and poor relationship with Liverpool's current management, don't be the least bit surprised if Reina's transfer saga drags on until well after the World Cup. No matter what happens, though, it's going to be important for Napoli fans to follow, as who starts in goal while Cabral is getting fit could go a long ways towards determining their fate at the end of the season. If it's not Reina, it certainly needs to be someone a sight better than Mariano Andujar or Antonio Rosati.