Spanish dilemma: Calling time on Iker Casillas

Iker Casillas was recently dropped by Vicente Del Bosque in Spain’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Luxembourg. In his place, Manchester United’s David De Gea was given the responsibility between the posts and he duly delivered, keeping a clean sheet in the process. Now, everyone is wondering if that loss to Slovakia was the last match Casillas had played as captain of the reigning European Champions.

I think it should be.

I still remember the first time I set eyes on Iker Casillas. It was the year 2000, and the match was the UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Valencia. I remember being nervous for Real when I saw the team sheet. The 18-year old Spaniard was going to start the match ahead of veteran goalie Bodo Illgner. Madridistas have come to rely on the German’s reliability between the post for half a decade. Trusting an 18-year old in a European final was asking a lot. Furthermore, Real needed this silverware to avoid ending the season without a trophy.

Casillas did start 12 of 17 Champions League matches for Real, conceding 19 goals and keeping 4 clean sheets up till then. Their opponent in the final Valencia, had only let in 15 goals throughout their campaign. It was quite harsh to put the blame solely on Casillas for conceding the 19 goals while he was between the sticks. But that is the measurement to which someone evaluates the performance of a goalie. If you rate strikers by the number of goals they scored, you rate keepers by the number of goals they conceded.

Fortunately, Real went on to beat Valencia 3-nil in that Final. Casillas made it a total of 5 clean sheets in his first proper Champions League campaign. It signaled the beginning of the end for Illgner at the Bernabeu. The 1990 World Cup winner eventually retired from playing professionally after that season.

Casillas had made his mark.

He became the youngest goalkeeper to feature in the final of a Champions League match. Little did he know that it was to be the first of many records he would make and break throughout his 15-year career for club and country. The list is endless:

5-time IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper Award, 6-time UEFA Team of the Year (both, consecutively), most capped Spanish player of all-time, most capped goalkeeper in the Champions League, 2010 FIFA World Cup Golden Glove, first captain in history to win the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and UEFA Super Cup, first Spanish player to reach 100 international wins for his country……


Perhaps Casillas should have retired from International football after their World Cup triumph in 2010


The man has had a long and fulfilling career most players can only dream of. It’s startling to realize he’s been around for so long too. But as it is with this line of profession, it is coming to a screeching halt sooner than he’d like. The mistakes are slowly accumulating. It might just be a dip in form or confidence. It could also be due to age. The criticisms are mounting. And with that, doubt creeps in. Eventually it will cost someone or something. Then, his reputation will be sullied. Just like how Sir Alex Ferguson should have left after he won the treble with Manchester United to preserve his place in club history, Saint Iker should have called time on La Rojas after the 2010 World Cup. And he should have signaled the end of his adventure with Real Madrid after he won La Decima as captain.

But he didn’t.

You’re only as good as your last game in football, or any other sport. Casillas has won and achieved all that he can in club and international football. Surely he can see that too? So, isn’t it time he stopped being selfish and made way for the next generation, with his legacy intact?

I recall a couple of years back when Spain’s number two consisted of 3 first team goalkeepers who would be certain shoo-ins with any national side. For the match against Luxembourg, it seemed as if Del Bosque had less options in the matter and had to go with De Gea. Without discounting the United keeper’s current form, the manager most definitely could not pen in Pepe Reina who has been warming the Bayern bench since leaving Liverpool and Napoli. AC Milan’s Diego Lopez is injured. And I can’t even remember when was the last time I watched Victor Valdes in action. That day, he had Espanyol’s 28 year old Kiko Casilla on the bench, next to the captain. The contrast in quality is evident.

Remember the goalkeeping problem England had in trying to replace David Seaman after the Arsenal legend retired from international football? The Dutch shared a similar predicament when they had to call Edwin Van Der Sar out of retirement for the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, because their only options for the number 1 shirt were injured. Coming from a country that has a reputation of outstanding youth development in football, it is rather ironic for the Dutch.

But it happens, and in the name of patriotism, Casillas should start thinking of passing the baton on to his rightful successor, whoever it may be, before it’s too late for Spain. Unlike a club side, they have to play the hand they’re dealt with whether they like it or not.

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