Serie A runners-up Napoli have made a show of their ambition for the future with the signings of Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina and Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain. Higuain was a reported target for Arsenal, but after Real Madrid apparently upped their asking price, the Neopolitan club stepped in with a £32 million bid. Arsenal have instead set their sights on Liverpool’s star forward Luis Suarez with an audacious £40,000,001 bid for the Uruguayan’s services.
For some Liverpool fans, the departure of Reina on a season-long loan marks the end of an era for the Merseyside club. Reina was one of the few members of the 2008-09 Liverpool squad, the last one to finish in the top four of the Premier League. Only talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, and Daniel Agger remain from that squad, and with Liverpool only managing 7th last year - behind hated rivals Everton - it is hard to see the Reds troubling the Champions League places in the next few years. The club has declined since the departure of manager Rafael Benitez, with whom Reina will be reunited at Napoli for the first time since then.
Reina joined Liverpool from “The Yellow Submarine” Villarreal in 2005 and has gone on to make almost 300 appearances for the club and 28 for Spain. Despite being widely regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the Premier League, Reina only won four trophies in his time at the club - the FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup - as well as “Player of the Season” in 2009-10. Liverpool fans will have many fond memories of one of their finest goalkeepers, but his standout moment was in his first season, specifically the FA Cup final against West Ham. After Steven Gerrard had equalized in stoppage time, the game went to penalties, and although Sammy Hyypia missed for Liverpool, Reina saved three of the four West Ham penalties to clinch a famous cup victory.
Reina will replace Morgan de Sanctis at Napoli, but it is not his departure that has the Napoli fans most worried. Superstar Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani has left for PSG despite Napoli’s second-placed finish last season, with Argentine finisher Gonzalo Higuain his replacement. Despite his consistent goalscoring for Los Blancos - 107 in 190 appearances - he was never the perfect fit for the club, hardly a Galactico like Cristiano Ronaldo or Karim Benzema.
Although originally from Brest, France, he was granted Argentine nationality in 2007 and made his first appearance for the South Americans in 2009. He has since gone on to score 20 goals in 32 appearances for his new nation, although as with Ronaldo at Madrid he is usually outshone by his international teammate Lionel Messi. He will do well to emulate Cavani’s 38-goal season, but with the reliable Goran Pandev and improving youngster Lorenzo Insigne to back him up, he shouldn’t find goals too hard to come by in a declining Serie A.
It has been reported that Higuain’s presentation at the club has been cancelled but members of the Italian media don’t seem to be reading too much into it. Elsewhere, manager Rafa Benitez is reported to have made a “monstrous” offer for young PSG midfielder Marco Verratti and an approach for Porto’s Jackson Martinez is rumoured, so Napoli could be a dark horse in this year’s Champions League and real contenders for the Italian title. One thing however is certain: at a club where Diego Maradona is worshipped as a deity and the chairman once unveiled a new signing in a lion mask, it certainly won’t be a boring ride.