Farewell, Iker Casillas: Spain and Real Madrid’s eternal number 1

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On Tuesday, the 4th of August, Spain’s World Cup hero and Real Madrid’s undisputable “Saint,” Iker Casillas made the official announcement — confirmed that he was retiring from football, hanging up his goalkeeping gloves for good. 

After his heart attack in May 2019, Iker Casillas’ retirement was only a matter of time. After winning every trophy and accolade conceivable, he had no reason to come back to the pitch.

Yet, only two months later, he rejoined Porto for pre-season warm-up. Unfortunately, despite being named in the Porto squad for the 2019-20 campaign, Casillas never got around to making an appearance for the team; his health didn’t let him.

However, for his spirit and invaluable inputs as a member of the club’s coaching team, Porto proudly shared their league title with the shot-stopper, celebrated a trophy with him for one last time. 

An unmatched presence for Real Madrid

In 1997, a 16-year-old Iker Casillas got an unexpected visit from the school principal. The teenager was informed that Real Madrid had summoned him for a Champions League group stage tie in Norway, and he had to rush to the airport as soon as possible.

He packed his bag, tried his best to tone down his brimming grin, and met with the Real Madrid stars at the airport. The Fabrica graduate didn’t make his debut that night, but the thrill of sitting on the bench for a Champions League tie was nothing short of exhilarating. 

Iker Casillas made his debut on the 15th of September, 1999, against Olympiacos — becoming the youngest debutant in the Champions League at just 18 years and 177 days.

Later that season, he ended up helping Real Madrid to their eighth Champions League title, winning his first major trophy in the process. 

Two years later, in 2002, he came off the bench in the Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen, replacing first-choice keeper Cesar Sanchez after he picked up an injury.

Nervous and anxious, Iker Casillas steadily made his way under the crossbar. Producing some invaluable saves, he made sure Zinedine Zidane’s insane volley didn’t go to waste.

Real Madrid registered a 2-1 win, and Casillas, still just a newcomer, bagged his second Champions League. 

In La Liga, he continued to produce unimaginable saves. He didn’t come off as a daunting figure, but he was more than capable of keeping the backline in check.

He won the league in 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2011-12. He lifted the final one as the captain of Real Madrid. 

In 2013-14, after 12 long years, Real Madrid finally booked a place in the Champions League final. Against Atletico Madrid, Iker Casillas made a wrong judgement call, which all but cost Real Madrid the title.

Fortunately, his deputy, Sergio Ramos, popped up with one of the most iconic goals in the 92nd minute of the match to push the match into extra time.

Eventually, Los Blancos’ quality prevailed and they won the match 4-1 in added extra time. ‘La Decima’ was delivered and Iker Casillas let out the biggest sigh of relief. 

A perfect captain for Spain

Iker Casillas won two Euros — 2008 and 2012 — and the 2010 World Cup with the national team. And in each of the three campaigns, he was one of the best — if not the best — performers for La Roja.

His effort to deny Arjen Robben in the 2010 World Cup final is still wildly celebrated in Spain.

Each and every Spaniard knew how crucial it was, how painful the heartbreak would’ve been had the “Saint” not stepped up. 

However, the ability to produce unmatched performances is only one aspect of the Iker Casillas story. It needs the garnishing of his leadership, his ability to be the peacemaker even in the middle of a raging war.

Despite being a staunch Madridista, he never hesitated to make peace with the Barcelona stars, even when Jose Mourinho branded him a “traitor” for it. He knew the importance of national harmony, and he sacrificed himself time and again for it. 

The horrendous performances in the 2014 World Cup marked the beginning of the end for Iker Casillas at Real Madrid and the Spanish national team. David de Gea and Keylor Navas ousted the World Cup and Champions League winner from the respective squads.

For Spain, his last appearance — 167th total — in a 6-1 friendly win over South Korea in May 2016. Los Blancos, on the other hand, parted ways with their number 1 at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. 

Iker Casillas struggled to settle in at Porto, but he turned his fortune around from the second season itself. He wasn’t at his best, of course, but he still produced memorable saves almost regularly.

Away from the scrutiny of the Spanish capital, Casillas reinvented a bit of himself, which had gotten lost in the last couple of seasons. 

He left the Santiago Bernabeu in tears, shattering every “White Heart” in pieces. The club, for a while, weren’t vocal about the number 1. But over the last year — particularly after Casillas’ heart attack — both parties have shown more affection towards one another.

Last month, Real Madrid officially confirmed the return of their captain, stating that Iker Casillas would work as the president’s advisor.

From being part of a nasty divorce in 2015 to working together gracefully in 2020, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and eternal captain Iker Casillas are gearing up to set a new precedent in reconciliation and respect. 

We wish Iker Casillas a happy retirement! We hope he’s just as impactful off the pitch as he was on it. 

Also Read: Alexis Sanchez: The colossal waste of money who reshaped Manchester United’s recruitment policy

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