A star was born
Iker Casillas Fernández was born in Móstoles, Spain and joined Real Madrid’s youth set-up in 1990, progressing nicely through the ranks. Seven years later, his life would be forever altered; at age 16, Casillas was pulled out from class and put on a plane to Trondheim, Norway with Real Madrid’s first team for their game against Rosenberg in the Champions League. Two years ensuing that event, Iker would displace goalkeeping legend Bodo Illgner as the number one choice, which eventually lead to the German retiring soon after.
In 2000, three years after his first call-up to the first team, Iker became the youngest goalkeeper to play in a Champions League final- a game in which Real Madrid trounced rivals Valencia 3-0; a mere four days after his 19th birthday.
It’s been more than 15 years following Casillas’ withdrawal from class and since then Iker has racked up over 700 appearances for club (club record for a goalkeeper), has played in more than 160 games for Spain (he is the most capped player) and has won numerous trophies for both club and country as well as collected myriad individual awards.
Possessing cat-like reflexes and close-range shot-stopping prowess; Casillas, with his sometimes impossible saves, has won the hearts of many Madridistas and sports fans alike. The defining moment coming, I believe, in the final minutes of that 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen. After a string of sub-par performances early on in the 2001-2002 campaign, Casillas had lost his starting role to then back-up César Sánchez but was handed the opportunity to regain his position as number one when he replaced the injured César late in the game and pulled off some exceptional saves which denied Leverkusen their first Champions League trophy and allowed Los Merengues to lift their ninth.
Among his many individual awards and accolades; Casillas is one of a very few players, who’s won every major competition, in which he’s played and joined prestigious company the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Didier Deschamps, when he became the third captain in history to have lifted the three biggest trophies in world football- the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League. Additionally, he is the only goalkeeper to have won the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper Award for five consecutive years (2008 – 2012). In total he’s won 21 titles with Real Madrid and Spain including three Champions League, five La Liga titles, a World Cup and two European Championships.
San Iker– Real Madrid’s saint, was given the epithet because of the many miraculous saves he’s made throughout his career, which have kept Los Merengues and Spain in numerous games. He is the epitome of Madridismo; he is austere, a hard worker, humble and honest. He displays dignity in the face of defeat and fights for the club by leaving it all out on the pitch. He’s been loyal to the club and fans even when the fans’ and club’s reciprocity were absent during his lowest moments. Like Raúl before him, he’s had to deal with coaches, who’ve sometimes made them scapegoats for certain issues that arose and is now being forced out of the club in the same manner. After picking up a serious injury in 2013, Diego López was signed from Sevilla and made first choice keeper even after Iker returned from injury. Maybe it was in part down to his poor form or possibly more a result of Mourinho being convinced that Casillas was the mole leaking information about the state of the dressing room to the media. Whatever the reason, Iker has since then never been able to fully reclaim his former glory days as the world’s best and maybe his new adventures in Porto will see him do just that; after spending practically his entire life at Real Madrid and winning every tournament he’s played in with them, a new challenge is in order.
Adieu Great one
Nothing is for life in football: age and time catch up with you and the day comes when both you and the club have to move on– Alex Ferguson on Pep Guardiola leaving Barca as a player.
Likewise, the same can be said about Iker. The time has arrived for both parties to dissolve the relationship. And though it is difficult to envisage a Real Madrid with no San Iker, as he is the last true symbol of Madrid, without whom Los Blancos will have no genuine identity; we will, hopefully, over time, come to terms with his departure.
With that said, I say adieu to one of the best goalkeepers to have ever donned the Real Madrid jersey and one who has embodied Madridismo. His predecessor will have huge boots to fill and with the
ungrateful “demanding” fans that clamour in the Santiago Bernabéu weekly there’s no telling how quickly things could get sour.
I wish Casillas copious amounts of success at his new club and that his teammates, club and fans appreciate him the way most of us Madrid fans did. They are gaining a staunch goalkeeper who will fight for the badge and defend the colours as best as he can. May he provide you with a multitude of memories resembling the ones he’s bestowed up on myself and countless other fans.
Here are two compilation videos with some of Casillas’ more spectacular saves throughout his career including the key saves that helped his teams to various championships. Some of the saves included are those he made against Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final, as well as, some of his more monumental saves in recent years- among them is an extraordinary parry against Sevilla in the 2009-2010 La Liga season and a one-on-one save he made in the 2010 World Cup final against Robben.