Pepe Reina graces some of the biggest clubs in the world, wins a World Cup and plays in a Champions League final, but insists that Aston Villa remain in the Premier League alongside all his best experiences.
“I last talked to some guys about this,” said the 37-year-old goalkeeper on an AC Milan loan in January.
“If we do it and we are finally safe, I consider this to be one of the greatest achievements in my career.
Pepe Reina has felt a great responsibility to keep Aston Villa in the Premier League
Reina was brought in after a long-term injury to number one goalkeeper Tom Heaton
Reina has added experience and tranquility to an inexperienced young Aston Villa side
Aston Villa put himself in the saddle for safety after a 1-0 win over Arsenal on Tuesday
“It is so meaningful to me. I’ve been lucky enough to play for trophies, but I was taken to Villa to help and I felt a big responsibility these six long months.
‘As you age, you feel the pressure even more from what people expect from you. I don’t want to let them down that simple.
“I can’t wait to get to that last whistle and see us stay in the Premier League. It will be right there with everything I’ve accomplished. ‘
Reina, who knows Villa chief Christian Purslow from their time together in Liverpool, answered an SOS early in the year when Villa lost goalkeeper Tom Heaton to a knee injury.
After playing with Barcelona, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Napoli and AC Milan, no one would have blamed him for treating a survival scrap as a step backwards, especially if the lockout extended the schedule.
But the Spaniard has proven a great insurance policy during Villa’s troubled season, adding experience and calm to an inexperienced squad led by 24-year-old Jack Grealish.
Two weeks ago, they were seven points from safety with four games to go. They have since defeated Crystal Palace and Arsenal and pulled with Everton to join Watford at 34 points.
If Villa wins in West Ham today, they will be safe unless Watford unexpectedly beats Arsenal by a bigger margin. Even a draw is good enough if the Hornets don’t win.
“We have now done the most difficult work, which is dragging ourselves out of the relegation zone,” Reina added.
“Now it’s about defending what we already have. Another win is enough. Since the lockdown was completed, we have been better prepared and more compact than others.
“We just need the same mindset and keep that up. Focus on the performance we’ve had in recent weeks. ‘
Purslow has described relegation as a ‘£ 200m catastrophe’.
Reina says that Villa will stay up-to-date in addition to winning the World Cup with Spain
One image that sums up Villa’s survival was Reina kissing the ball in relief after Arsenal hit the post and bounced the ball in his arms on Tuesday. “The future is at stake here,” says Reina. “I have a few more years in my career, but it means a lot to the boys, that other status as a Premier League player. It will put the club on the right track in the coming years.
“I think it was the first time I kissed the ball this season. That was a relief. Ten years ago, Arsenal hit the post against me for Liverpool and it went in. That was what we were talking about, the feeling that we wouldn’t let people down. Don’t screw it up.
“If it goes well and you have a little bit of extra luck, then you grab it. We take everything with us on Sunday.
“I have a winning mentality. Fighting for the titles is good, but this is the pressure to fight for our lives to save the club.
“The gaffer, Dean Smith, has been putting on his socks all the time. Thanks to him for winning set-piece games, something you need to work on, and we certainly did. This is also another match for him to maintain that Premier League status and he can pretty much look out as our leader. ‘
Reina’s stint at Villa comes six years after he left Liverpool after a nine-year stint at Anfield
Reina’s autobiography, published when he played for Liverpool and was part of the 2010 Spanish World Cup team, revealed a long list of superstitions, including refueling petrol in the same garage for every home game.
He claims to have declined with age, although he admits to having held some of the same pre-match rituals.
He should be pleased to see West Ham recall fond memories of the 2006 FA Cup final when Reina saved three penalties in the shootout to get his Liverpool squad to lift the trophy.
That day competes with the Champions League semifinal against Chelsea – whose team included Villa coach John Terry – as his best overall experience yet in England.
But that was for today’s game, which could make or break Villa’s future.
Watford manager Hayden Mullins has supported his players to focus on the job as they travel to Arsenal today in search of their Premier League status.
They are ranked 18th and should improve Aston Villa’s result in West Ham to avoid any chance of relegation.
Mullins took the lead last weekend after Nigel Pearson’s shocking departure, but Manchester City’s 4-0 spanking, coupled with Aston Villa’s win over Arsenal, means Watford will face the Gunners knowing their fate is no longer in own hands.
But Mullins said, “Once the game starts, as a professional player, much of the emotion and what’s going on outside of it disappears.”
Watford hopes to improve Aston Villa’s result to remain in the Premier League
Eddie Howe turned down the temptation to support local clubs Wycombe and Watford as a boy and chose Everton instead.
The grim reality of Bournemouth’s plight this season is that today’s trip to Goodison Park could end their five-season stay in the Premier League.
Nothing but victory will do the manager of Bournemouth, but even three points may not be enough, as the club relies on favors elsewhere.
But Howe can draw inspiration from Everton’s great 1994 escape after a last-day win at Wimbledon, saying, “There have been so many last-day escapes over the years. Why can’t we be part of that? ‘
Eddie Howe will be inspired by Everton’s great escape in 1994 to survive