San Iker in the firing line

It was another landmark moment for Spain’s La Roja last Friday. Many fans back in their homeland may have missed their country’s 4-0 demolition of Belarus, but as Spain strolled to victory another record was broken. Vicente del Bosque’s captain, Iker Casillas, set a new benchmark for minutes without conceding a goal.

As of the final whistle in Minsk it has now been 727 minutes since the Real Madrid stopper has conceded a goal at international level, surpassing his previous record of 708 set. Remarkably, 480 of these minutes came during Spain’s victorious Euro 2012 campaign.

It is just the latest achievement in the history-making career of the man commonly referred to as ‘San Iker’ and who by many is considered the best in the business.

But, what is perhaps more remarkable than his own accomplishments is how the current captain of the world, European and Spanish champions, still continues to garner criticism for some of his performances and for his behaviour both on and off the field.

It was inevitable that questions would be raised following Real Madrid’s slow start to the current campaign. Everyone was wondering exactly what was wrong within the camp, why were they underperforming so badly? Then Cristiano Ronaldo let the rabbit out of the hat and rather than provide answers, the revelation that he was ‘sad’ posed even more questions.

In the rumours that soon swelled, no one was spared and San Iker, unfortunately, was at the centre of much it. The Real custodian was alleged to have had a fallout with Coach Jose Mourinho. He was accused of being one of the reasons for Ronaldo’s ‘sadness’ due to apparent support from teammates he had received instead of the Portuguese to win the next Balon d’Or. He was then labelled a ‘snitch’ by some in the Spanish Press, thought to be guilty of leaking stories from the dressing room through his journalist girlfriend Sara Carbonero.

In recent days the Real skipper has publicly refuted such condemnations. Whether true or not, it is baffling how people can question the behaviour of a man that has led his country to victory in three major international tournaments in four years. An achievement perhaps no one will ever repeat.

Even as Real Madrid have returned to form, as evident in their latest La Liga outing against Barcelona, it has not stopped with Mourinho reportedly deciding to turn on his own player by begrudging him for rushing over to congratulate the Blaugrana at the end of the game. Considering that he is the captain of a Spain side that includes many players from the Catalan camp, it was an affable gesture and one that given the growing intensity and disdain between the two rivals in recent years, was a welcome display of genuine sportsmanship.

Mourinho, post-match, reflected that his captain could have stopped Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s first goal: “The first goal Iker was slow and he could done more.” And, the Portuguese tactician was not the only one who questioned his performance.  The Madrid-based sports daily, AS, published an image with a footnote, ‘Iker Casillas launches into the air to try and save Messi’s free-kick but does so without stretching his arm to the full extent’. Meanwhile, Radio Marca commentators were heard accusing him of displaying a ‘lack of intensity’ before Messi struck.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that much of his critics have surfaced from within the capital, and within his own team as in the case of Mourinho. The frustration borne out of Real’s poor start to the season and the eight point gap between them and the current League leaders only climaxed after their failure to reduce the deficit away to Barcelona despite perhaps being the better side.

But, to hold Casillas accountable is unfair. After all, this is player who at 31 has won 141 international caps, has kept a record 78 international clean sheets and who has captained his country to two European Championships and a World Cup.

One cannot ignore that Casillas’ records and victories have come during a period where Spain have dominated the international scene. But, while this may be a blessing, it comes with the difficult task of uniting players from the capital and Catalan-camp during a time where, as mentioned, the animosity between the two clubs has been fever-pitched.

Yet, perhaps it is due to the extent of his achievements and accomplishments and the status it has afforded him that the criticisms never cease to stop and look like they never will. A victim of his own success, in a way, and he seems to have realised this much himself as evidenced by a recent phrase of his: “The higher you rise, the more closely people are watching you.”