Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has had to watch on from the sidelines recently, out injured for the past two months with a fractured metacarpal on his left hand (via RealMadrid.com). His team have performed well in his absence, but Casillas is on the mend now and would be hoping to regain his place in the side sooner or later.
According to recent quotes from his manager Jose Mourinho, though, he may have to wait a little longer to feature back on the pitch for Real.
As per MSN.FoxSports.com:
"In football we have to be honest with ourselves and with our players,'' said Mourinho. ''Casillas still isn't ready to be Diego Lopez's backup.''
Mourinho said Casillas would not be named to his squad for Wednesday's game against Galatasaray either in the Champions League quarterfinals, but would be so for next weekend's Spanish league match against Levante.
A return to the bench for Iker would of course be the first logical step as he returns to full training and attempts to regain match sharpness after around 12 weeks out of action, but it won't be his first stint on the bench this season.
Before the winter break, Casillas found himself displaced by Antonio Adan, who started four matches during December and January. A red card, and subsequent suspension, against Real Sociedad looks to have signalled the end of his particular challenge for the No. 1 spot, but the message to Casillas would have been loud and clear.
An improvement was needed from several Real Madrid stars, who were at the time floundering in third place and showing inconsistent form, and the long-serving goalkeeper was one of them.
The hand injury which Iker then suffered meant that Madrid were forced into the transfer market. Diego Lopez was brought in from Sevilla, and the former Villarreal man has been in exemplary form during his 10 appearances in La Liga and Champions League since then.
With the No. 1 shirt very much his for the moment, and with only a dozen more matches to play this season—plus any more which arise with further Champions League progression—it is entirely possible that Iker Casillas is forced to sit out as a backup for the remainder of this campaign.
As a World Cup winning captain of club and country, this would be a hugely unexpected turn of events for the man who has played more than 650 matches for Real Madrid and almost 150 for Spain.
Is it a long-term issue, which is going to force Iker out of the Santiago Bernabeu?
Very likely not.
It's not impossible. The precedent is very much set following the departure of the likes of Raul, but at age 31, Casillas still has years of top-level service in his game. It is almost inconceivable that he would not take on the challenge of gaining back his spot in goal by right, rather than by way of it simply being his to lose.
Diego Lopez, also 31, has been a top-flight goalkeeper for years but does not have the same experience, history of winning or standing within the game than his teammate has.
If the one-cap Spanish stopper can remain first-choice for the rest of the season, playing in more Champions League games and the Copa del Rey final against Atletico Madrid in mid-May, he will regard it—rightly so—as a great personal season, one which vindicates his decision to leave Sevilla after just a few months.
Casillas, though, would surely be the favourite to start the new campaign back between the sticks, particularly if there was a new incoming manager replacing the seemingly outbound Jose Mourinho over the summer (via goal.com).
There is still plenty of time for the Real club captain to work his way back into the team this season, of course, and Lopez will know better than anybody that it will only take one mistake, one poor game, to be taken out of the side and an opportunity handed to Casillas to stake his own claim.
The safe bet then would be on Iker maintaining his place from that moment on.
Either way, injury and poor form has already cost Casillas around a third of a season as the first-choice in the Real Madrid goal. Sometimes even the very best need a sharp reminder that nobody is entirely irreplaceable.
Given the strength of mentality and the technical quality of the player, it would be no surprise to see him re-established as the No. 1 for club and country sooner rather than later—and then be set for another span of several years largely unchallenged.
Statistics from WhoScored.com