While it’s probably a tad harsh to describe World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, as having gone from hero to zero, even he would have to admit the past nine months have been about as bad as they could be for the Real Madrid institution.
Shunned, ostracised and axed by previous Blancos boss Jose Mourinho, after having been unfairly accused of being the source of negative stories emanating from the changing room—as per Fox Sports—Casillas might have been forgiven for thinking that things could only get better when the volatile Portuguese coach quit at the end of last season.
How wrong can you be? First new boss, Carlo Ancelotti, seeing Casillas’s position in the Real hierarchy diminished found it easier to maintain the status quo with Diego Lopez in goal, leaving him on the bench and bringing him out for Champions League matches. Would he have rotated the keepers had the roles had been reversed? Probably not, but more of that a bit later.
Secondly, Casillas arrived back two weeks late for pre-season following Confederation Cup duty, while Lopez had an excellent pre-season. So while there is an element of politics in Ancelotti’s decision, I feel that the Italian genuinely believes that at the moment Lopez is the better keeper.
And then, against Galatasary, things went from bad to worse. A clash with teammate Sergio Ramos put an end to his all-too brief comeback and left him with bruised ribs. How long he will be out for depends how his ribs respond to treatment. Almost injury free throughout his career he found himself sidelined for the second time in nine months—the last injury also caused by a teammate, when Alvaro Arbeloa inadvertently broke his hand, as reported by Marca.
Even before Tuesday’s setback, poor old Casillas cut a forlorn figure around the Bernabeu. At the club since he was nine-year-old, a first teamer apart from the occasional loss of form much earlier in his career, he has played no fewer than 476 games for the first team since 1999 and represented his country a record 150 times, But he now finds himself struggling to understand the situation, because he simply doesn’t know what he’s done wrong.
My sources close to this national institution that bleeds 'merengue' blood say that he is thinking the unthinkable. Leaving the club that has effectively been his life. A well-positioned friend of his in the media has said he came close to leaving in the August but it never happened. The same source has not ruled out his departure in the January window.
Which brings us back, rather neatly, to Ancelotti’s decision to rotate. if Casillas should go he certainly won’t be able to play for a side in the Champions League, because the 15 minutes he played against Galatasaray have cup-tied him for this year’s tournament.
Casillas has bounced back from adversity before. As far back as the 2001-2002 campaign he lost his place to Cesar Sanchez after a poor run, only to grab the glory when he came on as a substitute to star in the last minutes of the Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen, which Real won 2-1.
Florentino Perez also reportedly wanted Gianluigi Buffon in the past, as per Sky Sports, while Goal.com's Ben Hayward confirms Fabio Capello looked at Diego Lopez, in the Madrid squad at the time, before thinking better of it when he saw the strength and authority of Casillas.
But now even sections, albeit the extremist 'ultras' in the Bernabeu crowd, are beginning to jeer and whistle the previously untouchable Iker, telling him they want him out. As the old saying has it, be careful what you wish for.