December 2012 was a pivotal moment in the career of Iker Casillas. Then-Real Madrid Coach Jose Mourinho did the seemingly unthinkable and dropped Iker Casillas, for an away game against Malaga. San Iker would only start four more games that season, sitting the remainder out on the bench.
The following season saw the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti. One suspects that with Mourinho gone, Casillas would have been hopeful of again being the first name on the team sheet. It did not happen, as Ancelotti stuck with Diego Lopez. For a player who had won virtually everything in the game, captaining his country to World Cup and European Championship glory, it’s not hard imagine how difficult it was for him to accept being second-fiddle.
Casillas has simply not been the same ever since. Not at Real Madrid and nor at Porto, where he now plies his trade. He has not looked the composed and reliable custodian that he once was. While he still is able to pull off miraculous saves, which has always been his greatest strength – think 2002 Champions League and 2010 World Cup finals – he now seems to lack confidence and, increasingly this season, is prone to make embarrassing blunders. The one against Sporting Braga stands out.
Spain Coach Vicente Del Bosque, ever a staunch supporter and admirer of the former Real Madrid captain has stuck by him and defended him following the Braga game.“Casillas made a mistake, but the important thing is that he is well and arrives at Euro 2016 in good form,” he told Cadena COPE. At the same time, when asked if Casillas would be part of his squad at Euro 2016, Del Bosque "Nobody is guaranteed a place here," said in an interview.
Casillas was called up for the national team’s two recent friendlies. Against Italy, Manchester United’s David De Gea started and showed just why he is now considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world already. As he has done so many times for United, De Gea bailed out Spain on more than one occasion as they salvaged a draw with Italy. Suffice to say, De Gea did his chances of being Spain’s first choice no harm at all.
For the game against Romania on Sunday, Del Bosque selected Casillas. And, by all accounts, he actually put in a strong performance too, making one standout save from Nicolae Stanciu. More importantly, he kept a clean sheet, meaning that for Spain he has now gone 710 minutes without conceding a goal – an impressive statistic no matter how good the 10 players in front of you are. The last time he had to pick the ball out of the net was in a 2-1 defeat to Slovakia in October 2014.
The game also marked Casillas’ 166th appearance for the national team, equalling Latvia midfielder Vitalijs Astafjevs’ European record. Yet another landmark reached in a career that while it has had its lows, has definitely had more highs.
After the game, Casillas strongly hinted that retirement could be near. “It’s clear that time passes for everyone and I‘m no exception, but I’m still enthusiastic and I like to play with this squad full of young lads,” he said. Euro 2016 could be his last chance to represent his country at a major tournament.
On the evidence so far, it does seem like De Gea might finally become first choice for Spain this summer and he could not deserve it more. However, Casillas remains a popular and highly respected member of national team and his experience could prove invaluable to a team that has changed considerably since it romped to a 4-0 victory of Italy in Kiev four years ago.