IKER CASILLAS: THE END OF AN ERA

iker 1

Emotional Iker

 

After 25 years at the club of his heart, Iker Casillas, directly forced out or otherwise has left Real Madrid to join FC Porto. It wasn’t the kind of ending many Madridistas expected but it is an ending. A situation initiated by then coach Jose Mourinho when he dropped Iker in a league game in December 2012.

It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of Casillas at Real Madrid. The local boy from Mostoles, a working class suburb from Madrid, he came through the club’s youth ranks and broke into the first team as a starter in 1999 at 18. In November 1997 then he was 16, Iker Casillas cannot remember what he was drawing at the exact moment he was called up to Real Madrid’s Champions League squad for the very first time. It was a technical design class. One winter afternoon south of Madrid, a messenger came into his classroom to tell the teacher the headmaster wanted a word. Iker dashed to the head’s office where he was told he had to get home quick. Madrid were going to Norway and Casillas was going with them.

Young Casillas

“Bodo Illgner was injured and Santiago Cañizares had a knock, so Real needed a third keeper. Iker was literally pulled out of a technical design class. His teacher queried: ‘Well he’s supposed to be working in my class.’ The headmaster, who was a big Madrid fan, called. He knew Iker was in the youth system and every time they saw he’d talk about Madrid. He told young Casillas that he had to get to the team hotel near Barajas, ready to fly to Norway.

“They took me home in the school minibus. My mum was frantically packing my bag for me. I got changed, picked up a suit and a jacket which I had from playing for Spain’s Under-16s and off we went. The other kids had no idea why I’d left class; no one had mobiles back then. Now everywhere you go everyone is waiting with a camera phone.”

Casillas knew he wouldn’t play but Jupp Heynckes made him change and sit on the bench for the experience. And something had been started. Two and a half years later, he was the youngest goalkeeper to play in a European Cup final as Madrid became champions against Valencia.

He ended up starting in and winning the Champions League final against Valencia. He would win two more Champions Leagues, including an absolutely epic performance coming on as a substitute in the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen.

He won five leagues and was named the world’s best goalkeeper a record five times in a row. Perhaps most importantly, he captained Spain to two European Championships and one World Cup title, in 2010, with a vintage “San Iker” performance in the final against Holland.

He is, without a doubt, the greatest goalkeeper to ever play for Real Madrid.

Despite all of his greatness and all-around class attitude, Iker Casillas has been booed by a sector of the Bernabéu fans at nearly every single home game for the past two seasons.

Where did it all go wrong between Casillas and Real Madrid?

The beginning of the end?

It all started with a phone call in the fall of 2011 between Casillas, then the captain of both Real Madrid and Spain, and Xavi and Carles Puyol, captains of FC Barcelona. Tensions were at an all-time high between Real Madrid and Barcelona, mostly due to the unprecedented provocative sword wielding on Madrid manager Jose Mourinho. Mourinho fomented an “us against them” mentality, preferring to treat the relationship with Barça as an openly hostile one rather than one based on mutual respect. He even stuck his fucking finger in the late Tito Vilanova’s eye at the end of a particularly heated Clasico.

Casillas, who at first was in tune with Mourinho’s brinksmanship, realized that things had gotten way out of hand, and if that he didn’t act as the captain of Spain, he would put that summer’s 2012 European championship campaign in jeopardy. He decided to reach out to Puyol and Xavi to try to calm the waters and build unity ahead of the tournament. By Iker’s account, the call was tense, but ultimately a key factor in Spain’s ultimate victory at Euro 2012.

Mourinho saw this as outright treason and never forgave Casillas. Mourinho is a man who sees two kinds of people in the world: those who are with him, and those who are against him. He started to suspect that Casillas was against him.

The lines were clearly drawn and the consequences were lasting. Casillas has not been the same since, but nor has he been anywhere near as bad as his fiercest critics claim. The coach had diagnosed the decline, it was about personalities and politics and Casillas’s reputation became increasingly damaged – the goalkeeper was accused of leaking dressing room secrets and of lacking professionalism. He was protected by the media, his detractors complained, but protection was certainly not offered from the club. In one interview he admitted to feeling “alone”.

The Real Madrid legendary goalkeeper situation created a divide amongst fans. This situation led Iker to Oporto where he can resurrect the latter days of his career with tranquil and a breath of new life.

So who will replace Casillas at Real Madrid?

Can De Gea step in Casillas….

David de Gea. The Manchester United keeper has been tipped as his natural successor both at club and national team. De Gea has been reported to be so homesick that he is willing to forget the fact that he is a lifelong Atléti fan in order to be closer to his girlfriend and family. He only has one year left on his deal, so it looked like United would eventually be forced to make a deal.

Another option is Kiko Casilla. The Espanyol goalkeeper whose name is same minus an ‘s’ is a product of Real Madrid’s youth system and was always considered one of the best goalkeeping prospects of his generation. He’s a totally different style of keeper than de Gea — more of a commanding presence in the area due to his enormous size rather than a quick shot stopper. His strong performances for Espanyol have put him on the Spanish national team’s radar, with his international debut coming last season in a friendly against Germany.

Will it be Kiko?

Whoever comes to replace Iker Casillas will be stepping into a penalty box owned by a club legend for the last 16 years. It won’t be an easy task for whomever is chosen. It takes a special kind of mental strength to withstand the pressure of being Real Madrid’s No. 1.

In the end, after 725 games for Los Blancos, what has made Iker Casillas special? His ability to make the extraordinary ordinary, no matter how adverse the situation.

Iker and his trophies!

 

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Rotimi on July 13, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Nice writeup. My dose of soccer tonic delivered!

    Reply

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