Pepe Reina joined his old friend Fernando Torres on international duty last week. On Sunday for Liverpool he faces him at Stamford Bridge, assuming the Chelsea striker is selected against his former club. Torres was not in the starting lineup for Spain against England and Liverpool's Andy Carroll did not even make Fabio Capello's squad. Since the dramatic final day of the January transfer window neither the most expensive player to move between two English clubs nor the record British signing has had the easiest of years. Both have looked uncomfortable because of the size of the fee, although it could be argued Torres looked uncomfortable long before being sold.
The Liverpool goalkeeper particularly felt Torres's pain at severing his Merseyside connection because he, too, had considered finding a new club. He felt the Liverpool he ended up playing for was not the Liverpool he had joined and, like Torres, was told he had to stay because the club would not release any big-name players while they were in the process of being sold to new owners. The only difference was that world-class strikers, even out-of-form ones, tend to be coveted more than goalkeepers and can still attract the sort of offer it would be difficult to refuse.
"I consider those months leading up to January to be the worst of my Liverpool career too," Reina says. "It was incredibly sad to see Fernando go but I could understand his reasons for leaving. He started to feel Liverpool were never going to be competitive again. He was struggling with his own form too but the way we were playing I think even Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi would have struggled. We were playing without identity, it was probably the lowest point in Liverpool's history.
"The club Fernando joined had just been to a second Champions League final in three years. When he left the only double the club could manage was losing twice to Blackpool. Fernando did a tremendous job for Liverpool and scored a lot of goals but he never got the goodbye he deserved. The supporters had formed such a special relationship with him and to see that bond broken was really sad but we carry on without him now. It's been said many times but no one is bigger than Liverpool. Players and managers will come and go but the club will always stay."
Reina insists he would rather look forward than back and believes things have improved enormously at Liverpool in a short space of time, mostly because of what else happened at the end of the January transfer window. "The money the club spent on Andy Carroll and Luis Suárez was a real statement of intent," he says. "It was the kind of positive action that a lot of other people as well as myself had been aching for, and so were the signings that followed in the summer. It showed that even after all our problems Liverpool could compete in the transfer market. We could still attract top players and that was important to us all.
"It's all about us being positive now and improving the club's position. A great hunger and determination has always been present at this club but maybe in the past the quality and strength you need was not always there. Now with the new owners we have some stability back and you can sense the positivity returning. Liverpool should be aiming for more than just a top-six finish and, with the quality we have in the squad now, I think we should soon be able to aim for the title. With the right balance between the owners, the players and the supporters I think we can be contenders."
Liverpool certainly have a top player in Suárez, whose form for his club and for Uruguay since arriving from Ajax for £23m has been consistently impressive. The only drawback is that controversy seems to follow the player who handled on the line in a World Cup quarter-final against Ghana and served a suspension in the Netherlands for biting an opponent, and if Suárez ends up with another ban after being charged by the Football Association over abusive remarks made to Patrice Evra the spotlight will fall even more uncomfortably than it already has been doing on the other striking buy Liverpool made last January. Kenny Dalglish keeps claiming he is happy with Carroll's progress and he has plenty of time on his side, though Capello would not have been the only detached observer to form the conclusion that to be considered a success, never mind justify his fee, the former Newcastle centre-forward needs to start more games and score more goals.
Reina thinks that, as with Jordan Henderson, the important consideration is that Liverpool are putting down foundations for the future. "We are building a mid- to long-term project here and for that you need a good mix of experienced players and young ones coming through," he says. "Luis was an instant hit, Andy was injured at first and will maybe need a little longer. But they are both good players, that's the main thing.
"As is Fernando, whatever his form at present. He is my friend and I will always have time to speak to him but I will only wish him luck after the game at Chelsea. He's tougher than he looks. I offered my help when he was leaving Liverpool but he didn't need it, he's mentally strong. He took everything on his own shoulders but he could handle it, be mature about it. Sometimes in football you just have to move on."