Having been a firm believer that Iker Casillas’ time has been coming to an end as a top keeper not only for the last season but for the last three, you would think the defeat to Holland would fill one with a sense of satisfaction.
You would be wrong. To see one of the best keepers of the last decade reduced to a crawling mess – literally – would not give many people a sense of pleasure. Well, Jose Mourinho aside.
The debate over the previously untouchable Casillas was started by the aforementioned Mourinho, who during his time at Real Madrid had several gripes with his skipper, both on and off the field.
Off the field, Mourinho did not appreciate the way he did not fight for his point of view, and as he saw it, the war against UEFA and media darlings, Barcelona.
He hated the way Xavi and Casillas were friends and the fact that Casillas called the Barcelona midfielder to apologise after one of the more heated Clasicos. That is not the way Mourinho works – and he certainly does not want his captain to act as a UN member – unless they have a department for mischief and mind games we are not aware of.
Mourinho also took exception to the way dressing room secrets found their way to the front page of Marca – a publication which shockingly, Casillas’ girlfriend worked for. Texts between players and dressing room confrontations were printed verbatim in the tabloid rag. There was a leak and Mourinho knew at least a part of it came from Casillas.
On the field their relationship was not much better with the Special One harbouring serious reservations about the abilities of Casillas – or lack thereof.
He was weak in the air, too short and did not come for crosses or command his box. Conceding from set plays was a constant issue – and a problem that Mourinho had never suffered before or since in his career. The now Chelsea boss favours big, tall commanding keepers a la Petr Cech, Julio Cesar and Diego Lopez.
Even the shot stopping Casillas produced was under question. He parried instead of catching, did not get to the shots he used to, his positioning was questionable and Iker was simply not the man he once was.
He also wondered about Casillas and his ability to lead a side, favouring an outfield player as a skipper – and one with a personality and a bit of fire at that. It speaks volumes that even when relations between Ramos and Mourinho were at an all-time low, the manager would still hand Ramos the armband, knowing he was a leader on the field.
An injury to the keeper against Valencia in the Spanish Copa allowed Mourinho to replace Casillas with the newly brought in Diego Lopez – a keeper who fit the Mourinho mould in terms of ability, physical prowess and personality.
Lopez faced a hard time from the fans, who of course call their skipper ‘San Iker’ and an even harder time from the Spanish press who count Casillas as their favoured son.
To then say that not only did the fans warm to Lopez with the Ultras taking a particular like to the keeper and indeed supporting Mourinho to the absolute death, but then the fact that the media even started to firstly get off his back and then actually praise the keeper speaks volumes. In the ‘week of death’ when Real Madrid faced Barcelona and Manchester United multiple times, Lopez was a giant.
He kept the jersey for the rest of Mourinho’s reign at the club – ended by mutual consent, which this time translated as ‘in fighting’ – and managed to retain the jersey under Carlo Ancelotti for the league games at least.
Casillas through all that period still retained the national number one shirt and Vicente Del Bosque seemed blind to not only Lopez but also the form of Victor Valdes, so often the understudy to Casillas, who was only handed a token chance to impress and even had he stayed fit, had absolutely no chance of dislodging Casillas in the national team.
Many of those who did not follow Spanish football wondered why Casillas had been dropped – a falling out with Mourinho made sense – but then the continued snub by Ancelotti really got the masses wondering.
The player’s form in the Champions League final and his inexplicable flapping that a bird would be proud of during the early Atletico Madrid goal only confirmed what a fair few people had begun to think. Casillas was no longer the keeper he once was.
Of course his staunchest supporters just pointed out the fact that he had kept goal during the Champions League and Copa wins. Not that he was bailed out time and time again, especially in the Champions League.
The opening group game for La Roja was an utter disaster for Casillas. He humiliated himself and his national side. He spent more time in no man’s land than soldiers fighting the entire war in the trenches.
Iker being Iker issued an apology after the game – displaying humility some might say. Other more cynical people might point to that being a clever manipulation of the press and indeed the public and keeping them on side. Of course their Saint just had one bad game. He wasn’t really to blame. After all, Casillas has done and indeed won so much for Spain. Vamos Iker. Blah Blah Blah.
Until the Spanish and more vitally, coach Vicente Del Bosque take the sentiment and personal affection out of the team selection, they will struggle to win anything.
There is also a young up and coming keeper you might know called David De Gea, who managed to be the shining light in an otherwise God awful season for Manchester United and whose knocking at the door of Del Bosque got louder and louder with each goal hitting the back of Casillas’ net.
After all, there is only so many times Casillas can be bailed out by Ramos, Bale or Ronaldo – and when Ramos is equally bad, Bale is playing golf lamenting the fact he is Welsh and Ronaldo has his own Pepe sized problems, he is on his own, and unlike tournaments gone by, Iker alone cannot do very much.
Spain fans. What would you do about Iker Casillas? Is it time to give De Gea a chance? Let us know your thoughts below or tweet us @LaFootyettes.