Once believed to be immortal, the past two years have shown that Iker Casillas is, at the end of the day, just a mere mortal. The end has been said to be coming for a while now, but this wasn’t the script that the goalkeeper would have chosen. Earlier this week, the Spanish national broadcaster, RTVE, announced that Casillas and Real Madrid had reached an agreement that would see him leave the club after decades of dedication. A departure that has been predicted for a while but is still one that is steeped in sadness and pity.
Casillas has been on the wane for two years now, and the Santiago Bernabeu faithful have been more than vocal with their criticism of a man they once called ‘San Iker’. If he had had a choice, there is no doubt that he would have liked to have had a send-off like international teammate Xavi enjoyed and might have had it, had he or the club announced something before the season was over. But, now it is too late and should Casillas leave, it is unlikely that fans will be able to say goodbye to a man that delivered so much silverware.
Casillas was still in school when he was called up to the first team squad in the late 90s for an away Champions League tie. He would soon get his chance between the sticks and impressed straight away. He won the Champions League in 2000 and had the world at his feet. In 2002, he was brought crashing back to earth when he was dropped by Vicente del Bosque as his off-field life was getting in the way of his football. During the 2002 final, he watched from the bench but got his golden opportunity to redeem himself when he was brought on in the second half and pulled off save after save. He was back to his best once again and this time he was making no mistakes.
Even though Real Madrid lived in the shadow of Barcelona, both domestically and on the European stage, Iker was still seen as the best keeper in La Liga and Europe. His performances in Euro 2008 were key to Spain winning only their second international trophy and first in decades. While Casillas was excellent in 2008, it would be his exploits in South Africa that would cement his place as one of the world’s best goalkeepers when he led Spain to World Cup glory and pulled off one of the saves of the tournament to deny Arjen Robben in the final. It seemed that everything the keeper did turned out right, but his career was to take a dive.
Jose Mourinho arrived and was signed to knock Barca from their perch. While silverware was won, even Mourinho dubbed his tenure as a failure, but the person who lost the most during the Special One’s time in the Bernabeu hot seat was Casillas. From the start there was tension and the Portuguese Coach would end up believing that he had a mole in his dressing room as word-for-word conversations were printed in the newspapers. In one alleged conversation Mourinho was quoted as referring to Casillas as ‘the keeper’, not even using his name. While the conversation has never been officially confirmed, it was still clear that not all was well with the Special One and his captain.
Mourinho ended up dropping Casillas and at first fans booed him for it. Then Iker got injured and Diego Lopez came in and did a decent job. While he was recovering more and more rumours came out that Casillas was the mole in the dressing room and little by little the fans started to turn on him as they backed Mourinho. The Coach would leave and return to England and it looked like Iker was set to turn the page on an unfortunate experience. Yet, the damage was already done and it was there for all to see in the 2014 World Cup. For many, the writing was on the wall.
Throughout the 2013-14 season, Iker watched from the bench for La Liga games and used Copa del Rey and Champions League games as a chance to earn some redemption and why not? In 2002, he had taken knocks but turned it all around by winning Europe’s elite club competition, and when he lifted ‘old big ears’ last May, he may have felt that he had done enough to win back his doubters, but he was wrong. Even though he won back the No 1 shirt and was the regular keeper in La Liga and Europe, he was widely booed and whistled at. This saw the Spanish media to start speculating that his time at his boyhood club was coming to an end.
This week’s news has surprised no-one, but there are many Real Madrid fans who would be upset should he leave. They feel that Casillas deserves a send-off similar to that given to Xavi, but Real Madrid don’t really do send-offs that well, just look at Raul and Fernando Hierro as examples. Older fans have been complaining for years that players are brought in through the front door with fireworks and pomp, yet when the time to go comes, they are shoved out the back. They have made their opinions clear, but it has all fallen on deaf ears.
It is hard to see Iker staying, especially watching from the bench. Should he go, it is a sad end for a man that gave nothing but 100 percent for his club, but this is modern football and Iker more than anybody knows how quick opinions can change. Hierro and Raul eventually got their homage, better late than never, and who knows maybe in a few years, tears will be shed for Iker, but that all looks like a long way away at the moment.
Where next for a man they would have followed into hell not so long ago? Many fans, and not just Madrid ones, are hoping that should he leave that he will find a happy ending somewhere. Nobody would dispute that he deserves it.