After 25 years, the Real Madrid chapter of the Iker Casillas story has finally come to an end. Unfortunately, this particular football tale did not finish with the ending that it deserved. And what should have been a glorious departure after a trophy-laden career, ended with a quiet exit through the back doors of the Bernabeu.
The last days of Iker Casillas could not have been more different to those of Xavi Hernandez, who recently left arch rivals Barcelona amid a fanfare of unbridled appreciation. So why did it end in such a bittersweet way for the man they called ‘The Saint”?
In truth, the Casillas story was allowed to go on far too long. There is normally a right time to leave; an optimum moment when you call it day and everyone involved agrees that the time is right, and for the former Real Madrid goalkeeper, that time had long since past.
From the moment that the club legend became the central figure in a dressing room soap opera that began following the arrival of Jose Mourinho in 2010, the writing was on the wall. After being dropped to the bench and with most of the fanbase still on his side, Casillas could have left in the summer of 2013 with his head held high and with Mourinho painted as the pantomime villain.
As it happened, Mourinho was the one to leave that summer and Saint Iker remained, bound by his loyalty and affection for a club that had been his home since 1990. With the Portuguese coach gone, Casillas probably thought that it would be business as usual in the Spanish capital but he soon discovered that he had another adversary to contend with – his form.
Despite his vast experience, the keeper did not always react well to pressure and criticism from the fans. The events that occurred under Mourinho led to a few dissenting voices amongst the fans and the Madrid man was desperate to get the crowd back on his side. However, a string of mistakes in front of goal the following year had exactly the opposite effect and the questioning voices grew louder. Of course, every mistake made at Madrid is a high profile one and with each fumble or failed attempt to punch the ball, the more intensely his performances became scrutinised.
Once the Madrid fans, the Spanish press and certain members of the clubs hierarchy started to doubt the captain of the world’s biggest club, there was only going to be one outcome.
And so it became that Real Madrid said goodbye to a servant of 25 years via a message on their website and the humble player left the stadium quietly and tearfully in the dead of night. Since the completion of his transfer to Porto, Real Madrid have made efforts to arrange a tribute match between the two clubs. This has been seen as a token gesture by some cynics, who have criticised the way that the club handled the whole episode. However, club president Florentino Perez has insisted that they always wanted to arrange a proper send-off but that the player himself wanted a low-key exit.
While the story did not have the happy ending it deserved, and with many fans seemingly glad to see the back of a man who was once seen as a hero, his achievements should never be forgotten. During the Galactico era at Real Madrid, the lad from Mostoles provided that vital local connection to the fans. And as an ever-present in the golden generation of Spain’s national team, Casillas was a major force in uniting a dressing room made up of the countries fiercest rivals.
During all this, he accumulated a haul of trophies that would be the envy of most footballers that have ever played the game.
Here are just a few examples of his major achievements as a professional:
Written by Neil Morris
Follow Neil on Twitter @nmorris01
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