Real Madrid: 5 Highs in Diego Lopez's Career so Far
When the news that Iker Casillas' injury would rule the Real Madrid captain out for up to three months, it didn't take the club long to draft in a replacement (per the club's official website), with key games fast approaching.
Jose Mourinho's experiment with Antonio Adan did not go exactly to plan. The young backup shipped three goals against Malaga, and then got sent off after five minutes at Real Sociedad.
With Manchester United in the Champions League looming and the small matter of a El Clasico double-header starting next week, Casillas' absence was in danger of destabilizing the team, in the words of Raphael Varane to the Associated Press (h/t Sports Illustrated).
Enter former cantera keeper Diego Lopez, who was understudy to Casillas between 2005 and 2007. It's taken five and a half years and a wild swing of Alvaro Arbeloa's boot for the former Villarreal and Sevilla stopper to get his chance at Real, but Lopez is a safe pair of hands when Real's season is in the balance.
Barcelona, for one, are only too familiar with the 31-year-old from Galicia.
5. Spain Debut, 2009.
On the back of a decent season with Villarreal in 2008-09, during which Lopez kept eight clean sheets and the Yellow Submarine qualified for Europe, Vicente del Bosque gave the keeper his chance in a Spain shirt.
Lopez replaced Pepe Reina on 65 minutes with Spain up 3-2 against Macedonia at the Filip II Arena in Skopje. The score remained the same until the end of the game, but that 25 minutes was Lopez's 15 minutes of La Roja fame.
Still, in a country where great goalkeepers grow as freely as oranges and the national deficit, it's an achievement nonetheless.
4. Champions League Run, 2008-09.
After finishing second in the league in 2007-08, Lopez's debut season with Villarreal, the Champions League beckoned anew.
Arsenal would eventually sink the submarine's European ambitions as it had in 2006, but not before it finished second only to Manchester United in the group and was seen off Panathinaikos in the last 16.
Lopez kept Alex Ferguson's team to nil points over 180 minutes, a trick the feisty stopper would later prove was far from a one-off.
Emmanuel Adebayor's wonder goal undid Villarreal at home, and Arsenal finished the job with a 3-0 win in London. Still, Lopez had proved he could mix it with the best strikers in the world.
3. Liga Runner-Up, 2007-08
After a whopping two league starts in two years of warming the Real bench, Lopez jumped at the chance to join Villarreal, which had been a Champions League semifinalist a year earlier.
The former Real Madrid C and B keeper started the 2007-08 season as understudy to Sebastian Viera, but displaced the Uruguay international and ended the season as undisputed No. 1, with a Liga runners-up medal, 20 league starts, 12 goals conceded and 12 clean sheets to his growing name.
2. Saving a Messi Penalty in King's Cup 2008
January 31, 2008. Lopez had kept Lionel Messi and company at bay for 90 minutes at El Madrigal, and Villarreal had reasonable hopes of doing the same at Camp Nou.
Former Arsenal defender Pascal Cygan was sent off for incurring two yellow cards in three minutes at the end of the first half, during which time Thierry Henry scored the only goal of the game from a Deco free-kick.
Lopez kept his side in the game, as he had in the first leg in a 0-0 tie. There is little more a keeper can do than stopping Messi from 12 yards, as he did on 72 . And how often does Barcelona score one goal in 180 minutes?
1. Back to the Big Time
So, it's back to home base for Lopez after a stellar career elsewhere in La Liga.
Having played second fiddle or at least as an equal part in Sevilla's mostly awful domestic campaign alongside veteran Andres Palop, the call came.
"For a Madridista like myself, to return to Real Madrid is the best thing that could have happened in my career. I am eager to start this great new challenge," said Lopez on ESPN.com as he assumed the No. 25 shirt at the Bernabeu.
It is extremely likely he will be given a baptism of fire on Wednesday in the King's Cup final against Barcelona. And then shortly afterwards against United in the Champions League.
He's done it before. Can he do it again? The stakes are high for both club and player, who could glean a couple of trophies out of this—he officially won La Liga in 2007, but non-playing gongs rarely satiate the palate.
But if not now, then who knows when? Lopez has signed for Real until 2017, so this is not a short-term fix.
I wrote recently that Casillas has not had much in the way of proper competition at Real for several years. He certainly has now.