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AMID all the talk of new recruits in the January transfer window there is one department everyone accepts is in safe hands.
In Pepe Reina Liverpool boast a model of consistency who will make his 200th league appearance for the club against Fulham tonight.
Having stepped aside to allow deputy Brad Jones to play in front of Australia coach Holger Osieck against Utrecht on Wednesday night, Reina will return to action in search of a fourth successive home league clean sheet.
His shut-out in the Reds’ last home league clash against Aston Villa saw the Spaniard become the quickest keeper in the club’s history to reach 100 clean sheets in the league.
It was his 198th appearance and he comfortably broke the previous best held by legendary keeper Ray Clemence who took 217 games.
Arguably the greatest shot-stopper in Liverpool’s history, Clemence has got used to seeing his records tumble in recent years and couldn’t be happier to see his achievements surpassed by Reina.
“I didn’t have a clue about that record until I was told but I’m delighted for Pepe,” Clemence said. “It’s nice to have records but they are there to be broken. You are setting targets for others to beat and Pepe has done that.
“Anyone who keeps that many clean sheets in so few games has proved himself to be top class.
“It’s not easy to keep clean sheets. Your concentration has to be spot on.”
Reina still has some way to go to match the haul of honours collected by Clemence who spent 14 years at Anfield between 1967 and 1981.
The keeper Bill Shankly signed for £18,000 from Scunthorpe won an astonishing five league titles, three European Cups, two UEFA Cups, the FA Cup and the League Cup with the Reds before moving to Tottenham. Remarkably, the England international only missed six league matches in the space of 11 years and in 1978/79 conceded just four times in 21 home games.
His total of 665 appearances puts him second only to Ian Callaghan in the club’s all-time list.
Reina, who signed a new deal back in April to keep him at Anfield until 2016, has spoken of his desire to join Clemence in the 600 club.
And Clemence believes the 28-year-old, who has played 283 times since signing for £6million from Villarreal in 2005, will remain as Liverpool’s number one for years to come.
“Pepe really is a world class goalkeeper and is still young,” he added. “He has all the attributes a modern goalkeeper needs. He has great reflexes and is very brave.
“One thing that has changed from my playing days is that these days you have to be more accomplished with your feet.
“You need to be a good distributor of the ball and Pepe certainly has that ability.
“His distribution is excellent and he plays a key role in the team counter attacking. His record speaks for itself.”
When Jamie Carragher recently dislocated his shoulder at White Hart Lane and joined Steven Gerrard on the sidelines, Clemence wasn’t surprised that boss Roy Hodgson turned to Reina to skipper the side.
The Reds’ reliable number one hasn’t missed a league game since May 2007.
“Pepe was the ideal replacement,” he said. “I think it’s clear he’s got the respect of his team-mates and all the staff and that’s vital for a captain.
“He has been at the club a long time and has performed consistently well. He’s one of the most experienced players in the team. Everyone knows him and what he demands from them.”
Clemence, who won 61 caps, is busy these days as head of the Football Association’s Development Team.
The 62-year-old works with under-21s coach Stuart Pearce to monitor the progress of the nation’s 16 to 20-year-olds.
However, he still keeps a close eye on events at Anfield.
Frustration is growing amongst fans after promising home displays have been followed up with desperate away performances.
The result is Liverpool stuck in mid-table – closer to the drop zone than the top four – but the former keeper believes Hodgson must be given time to turn the club around.
“Liverpool’s start to the season has been exactly what I expected after all that happened in the summer,” he added. “Roy has come in and had some good results and some indifferent results.
“It’s clear that some changes need to be made but Roy hasn’t had the opportunity to make those changes yet.
“I just think everyone associated with the club, including the supporters and the owners, need to have patience. It’s going to take time but I believe Roy is the right man to get the club back on track.”
Clemence believes the Reds’ mixed fortunes underlines the need to add to a squad seriously lacking in depth.
He added: “It’s not for me to tell Liverpool how to do their business but I think it’s clear to everyone the side needs strengthening.
“Whether that happens next month I don’t know. January is a notoriously difficult time to buy players – very few top players become available. Maybe it will be next summer before Liverpool are able to get what they need.”
Meanwhile, Reina is under no illusions about the importance of the Christmas season to breath new life into the Reds’ campaign.
Today’s clash with Fulham is followed by three in the space of a week against Blackpool, Wolves and Bolton.
“We know it’s a critical moment,” he said. “Every year Christmas time is huge. There are 12 points just around the corner for us. They are tough but winnable games, so it’s a time to get ourselves back on track.”