Iker Casillas has reflected on returning to playing, how he coped on the bench at Real Madrid and on why Spain must make the Confederations Cup Final.
After a difficult five months of non-action at Real Madrid first through injury and then in having fallen out of favour under Jose Mourinho, the 32-year-old made a competitive return to action in the first match of this summer’s Confederations Cup.
Remarking at the time that it felt similar to when he first debuted with La Roja, the goalkeeper reflected further in an interview with FIFA’s official website.
“It's partly true. It wasn't a completely new feeling, but it was certainly different. When you've been out for five months, it takes a while to get everything straight in your head,” reflected Casillas.
“Luckily my Coach and teammates have treated me extremely well, because that’s important when you're finding your way back.
“For goalkeepers, confidence comes from games and minutes. So whenever someone gives you an opportunity or shows faith in you, it always gives you a boost.
“Your first touch nearly always decides how the rest of your game will turn out. That first bit of contact helps your confidence, and I honestly felt good and comfortable, although I knew I'd be under a lot of scrutiny.
“Because of that, I tried to step back from it all and focus purely on doing my best, and on working with my team to win the game.”
Iker’s absence from first-team football began having suffered a fractured hand in January.
“Obviously, when your doctor tells you that you've got a broken hand, you start to have one or two doubts. Luckily, though, my recovery was quicker than anticipated. I knew that if I wasn't playing for my club, it would be difficult to get back into the national team. But Vicente [Del Bosque] followed my progress very closely, and fortunately my hand has healed amazingly well. I'd even say it's better than before! (laughs).
“How did I deal with recovering fitness and still not playing? By thinking of the team and wanting what's best for Real Madrid. I cried, suffered, felt bad and had nights where I slept little, if at all. I'm a Madridista through and through, and before everyone else – Coaches, Presidents, directors of football, even myself – the club always comes first.
“A lot of people helped me deal with being injured, which was a situation I'd never experienced before. I always try to be respectful. When you're not playing, as was the case with me, you have to accept it, work hard, be patient and keep going. It's no big deal.
“Did I ever consider leaving? I would love to finish my career at Real Madrid. But I would not cause a scene if, one day, a Coach were to come along and decide he doesn't need me.
“Only then would I look elsewhere. And I repeat: Madrid is my priority. This club has given me everything, and it's thanks to them that I'm wearing this Spain shirt today.
“And now? Yes, I really have got my happiness back. It's always difficult when you find yourself in a situation you've never experienced before.
“It hasn't been easy, but now I've turned the corner, I'm a different Iker Casillas.”
The goalkeeper then turned his attention back to current affairs, which are Spain’s preparations for their Confederations Cup semi-final with Italy.
“It's extremely important, because if Spain don't reach the final, the critics will say we're not the team we were before. If we win, it'll be business as usual.
“We've created this pressure for ourselves over the past few years, but we know we have to keep enjoying it.
“This team never gets tired of playing football, and always wants to win. I think we're the major power at the moment, but there may well come a time when it's difficult for us to keep repeating the success.
“Is the responsibility the same as four years ago? This team is nothing like the one from four years ago.
“Yes, we had just won the European Championship, but our success had come as a surprise to many people. Back then I don't think even we understood the role we had played in it all.
“Obviously, once you've won a World Cup, your mentality and responsibilities change. I'm not saying we now feel superior every time we play. But we do believe that, with our way of playing, we can achieve great things.
“We absolutely want to win it, as doing so would mean this generation has won every title possible.
“Would Brazil 2014 mark the end of Spain’s era? We're lucky that our young players are winning titles. Vicente has always brought Under-21 players through to the senior side, putting them in the spotlight and giving them playing time so that, eventually, they're able to take over from the older guys.
“It's true that time waits for no man. Some players will soon be turning 30, and there are already a few thirtysomethings! (laughs). Some of us will choose to carry on, others won't, depending on how we feel physically and mentally.
“And some might just get tired of seeing the same old faces. Spanish football needn't worry, though: the new players coming through are good enough to compete and win titles.”