Iker Casillas has faced challenges before, lots of them. The 33-year-old is one of the most experienced and decorated players on the planet having won the World Cup, European Championships, Champions League and La Liga amongst others. He’s lined up umpteen times for his country, often as captain, and El Clásico, arguably the biggest game in club football, but his newest opposition could be the toughest he’s ever faced.
It’s not Basel, who Casillas is set to line-up against tonight as Madrid play the first match in defence of last year’s Champions League triumph. It’s not Barcelona and it’s not neighbours Atlético, who got the better of the goalkeeper and his team on Saturday to leave Carlo Ancelotti’s side with just one win and two defeats from their opening three La Liga matches. Instead, the opposition is from within for Madrid’s club captain, who was subject to loud whistles and groans from his own supporters throughout their weekend defeat to Diego Simeone’s side.
It is a unique situation at a unique club. The Madrid-born shot-stopper joins illustrious company in that past players including Zinedine Zidane, who failed to live up to his reputation on his first few outings for the club, Míchel, Manolo Velázquez and even Alfredo di Stéfano, when post-glory years decline set in, have all felt the wrath of the Bernabéu crowd. Only this time the whistling was defeaning. Those aforementioned stars have their legendary status firmly in tact at the capital club but Casillas’, for all the glory that has gone before, risks being diminished.
“It hurts us just as much as it hurts the fans. We didn’t deliver,” said the Madrid and Spain No.1 following the 2-1 weekend derby defeat. “The crowd call the shots and if they choose to whistle me, I have to find a way to deal with it. I have to keep working hard and respond the way I know best, which is by playing football.”
The best deals of the summer...
The best deals of the summer...
1/15 Bojan Krkic (Stoke City, forward, £4.4m)
The most unlikely move of the summer looks like it could be one of the cutest. More interesting than all of the inevitable talk about “How will a former Barcelona starlet handle himself on a wet Saturday afternoon at the Britannia?” is how Mark Hughes convinced a former Barcelona starlet to leave Rome for a series of wet Saturdays in Stoke. Bojan has cut an increasingly disappointing figure in the three years since he left Catalonia – but Hughes revitalised Oussama Assaidi last season and could do the same for the nimble-footed Spanish forward.
2/15 Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea City, striker, free)
Swansea City have reacted shrewdly to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Wilfried Bony with the signing of the equally powerful Gomis. The Frenchman was hardly prolific during his five years at Lyon, netting at the rate of just over a goal every three games – but he offers an all-round threat not present in Bony’s game. Gomis is adept at holding the ball up and will allow Swansea the option of going long more often to complement their sometimes predictable passing game – he is a pragmatic buy with the potential to transcend lowly initial expectations.
3/15 Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle, right-back, £5m)
The quiet revolution on Tyneside continues at right-back, where Daryl Janmaat is a more than adequate replacement for Mathieu Debuchy, who was lured by Arsenal. Janmaat impressed for the Netherlands under Louis van Gaal at the recent World Cup with several displays of defensive solidity coupled with attacking prowess – indeed, he looks more secure at the back than the man he is replacing. The same caveat applied to Filipe Luis is relevant to Janmaat: the effectiveness of his displays will be measured by their lack of prominence. The early signs are promising.
4/15 Filipe Luis (Chelsea, left-back, £16m)
To suggest that Luis is an Ashley Cole clone is to damn him with faint praise and speak a measure of truth at the same time – Schrödinger’s Cat updated to fit Chelsea’s left-back problem. The Brazilian is as safe in defence as a Victorian semi-detached town house, but is ever-eager to press forward on the overlap. Great full-backs follow the maxim applied to referees: you only really notice them when they are performing badly or missing in action. Luis’s value will be revealed if Atletico Madrid struggle in his absence – and if no one mentions the name A Cole.
5/15 Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal, forward, £32m)
Sanchez is perhaps the standout signing in a summer of big-money moves at the sharp end of the Premier League. The Chile international has the pace, skill and finishing ability to play anywhere across the front line – he started on the wing in Arsenal’s Community Shield defeat of Manchester City but is expected to move to a more central role before too long, possibly replacing Olivier Giroud. Sanchez should bring the type of dynamism that Arsenal’s pretty, patterned play has often lacked over the past few seasons. Given the size of his fee, he will be expected to perform.
6/15 Diego Costa (Chelsea, striker, £33.44m)
The man viewed as Chelsea’s long-term striking solution could well turn out to be not just one of the best Premier League transfers of this summer but one of the best in the league’s history. Equally, the Brazilian has the potential to make his £33m-plus transfer fee look like the biggest debacle this side of Fernando Torres. The naturalised Spaniard flourished at Atletico Madrid in Diego Simeone’s high-energy, high-pressing system – but on occasion he can appear leaden-footed and has a fiery temperament that must be curbed. A two-goal salvo against Real Sociedad on Tuesday night hinted at the good side of the man – and his reaction to a Bruno Alves horror tackle against Fenerbahce the bad.
7/15 Romelu Lukaku (Everton, striker, £28m)
Having been on loan last season, Everton’s key signing of this transfer window already feels well at home among Goodison Park’s club-embossed armchairs. Lukaku hit 15 league goals for Roberto Martinez’s side last season as they challenged for the Champions League, only to falter at the last. More will be demanded of the Belgian now the Merseysiders have almost doubled their transfer record to make his move permanent – but Lukaku has the ability to fulfil those lofty expectations. Bullishly strong and with an unerring left boot, he can flourish now he is not tagged as the next Didier Drogba.
8/15 Lazar Markovic (Liverpool, winger, £20m)
How do you go about replacing the irreplaceable? Brendan Rodgers’ seemingly impossible task of filling the void left by Luis Suarez got off to a promising start with the signing of jet-heeled Serbian winger Markovic, who starred during Benfica’s run to last season’s Europa League final. The 20-year-old will be allowed time to settle into Premier League life, with Rodgers expected to use him from the bench in the season’s early weeks. Once he is unleashed, however, Markovic could be the season’s great surprise – he has trickery enough to delight even the most Suarez-obsessed members of the Kop.
9/15 Ander Herrera (Man United, midfield, £32m)
Leaving aside the lingering memories of the farce that was United’s pursuit of Herrera last summer, the fact that Louis van Gaal finally has the man David Moyes wanted can only be a good thing for a midfield in need of both an internal and external makeover. Despite being only 24, the playmaker is a classy and experienced operator – a veteran of European football with Athletic Bilbao, for whom he impressed against United in the Europa League in March 2012. Herrera is a significant upgrade on Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick – a player of finely spun steel for a deoxygenated midfield.
10/15 Rémy Cabella (Newcastle, midfield, £12m)
The Montpellier chairman, Louis Nicollin, mocked Cabella for his decision to move to Tyneside, telling the midfielder that he would be “bored” at his new club. It will be Alan Pardew seeing the funny side of the deal if Cabella proves a hit at Newcastle, however – and the France international has the ability to be just that. Creative and versatile, he possesses the type of Gallic skill that Newcastle fans have seen twice before with Laurent Robert and the incomparable David Ginola.
11/15 Daley Blind (Manchester United, midfield, £14m)
While United stole the headlines with their dramatic swoop to bring in Radamel Falcao in what looks a drastically expensive loan move, it was the signing of Daley Blind which could help the most given United's obvious deficiencies in midfield and defence. Blind, 24, knows Louis van Gaal and his methods well, which should prove very useful given how slowly it seems the rest of United's rearguard are getting their heads around them. And at £14million, he is the cheapest of United's senior signings.
12/15 Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea, midfield, £30m)
Another expensive acquisition, the fee this time believed to be in the region of £30million - but again, it is easy to see why the cash has been splashed. The early signs are that the Spain midfielder may be an even better player than the one who left Arsenal as a true Premier League star in 2011.
13/15 Calum Chambers (Arsenal, defence, £16m)
Not the most high-profile departure among the exodus from St Mary's over the summer, but Chambers was known to be a player of great promise and has certainly made a big impression in Arsenal's defence so far following his switch for a reported £16million, earning a first call-up to the full England squad.
14/15 Hatem ben Arfa (Hull, midfield, loan)
Steve Bruce arguably had the best deadline day of any Premier League manager as he completed something of a summer overhaul with the arrivals of Abel Hernandez, Mohamed Diame and Gaston Ramirez. But it was the late, late arrival of Newcastle outcast Hatem Ben Arfa which had the fans most excited. When his mind is right, the Frenchman is one of the most exciting attacking midfielders in the league and if Bruce can get him back on track after a frustrating year in the north east, he will give Hull a new dimension.
15/15 Mario Balotelli (Liverpool, striker, £16m)
The former Manchester City star is back in the Premier League after Brendan Rodgers went ahead with a £16m move for the Italian, securing his services from AC Milan. If Liverpool can contain his livewire personality and on-field temper, it could work out to be one of the best deals in the club's history.
The goalkeeper is, or had, been affectionately known as ‘San Iker’ amongst supporters. ‘Saint Iker’, he could do no wrong. That was until Jose Mourinho decided his performances were not up to scratch and dropped him “for technical reasons” for Los Blancos’ league game at Malaga in December 2012, with Antonio Adan replacing him. Diego Lopez eventually became his long-term successor when he returned to the club in January 2013. That move set the wheels in motion for where Casillas finds himself today.
His confidence, it seemed, was in tatters and even when he did get a recall to the first team by Ancelotti to be Madrid’s goalkeeper of choice in cup competitions last season, he failed to shine. An error in Lisbon almost cost Madrid La Décima and when Vicente del Bosque trusted him to continue as No.1 for the national team in Brazil this summer, Casillas had a nightmare. When Madrid bought Levante’s Keylor Navas, who in contrast enjoyed a superb World Cup for one of the competitions surprise packages in Costa Rica, it seemed only natural that he would become outright No.1 and Casillas would have to settle for more time on the bench, or opt for a move away.
It didn’t work out that way. Navas is yet to play a minute of competitive football for Madrid while Casillas has restored his place as the club’s starter in goal. The Costa Rica is expected to be given his chance in the Copa del Rey but as things stand it will be Casillas who will start each week in the league and also in the Champions League, which kicks-off for the holders against the Swiss side at the Bernabéu tonight.
The match marks the start of Casillas’ darkest hours at the club he was not so long ago deemed as a legend and as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. When the starting line-up is announced on the big screen before the match there will be a large section whistling his name. There will be a large section applauding him to drown out those whistles, as there was on Saturday, but the calls to drop Casillas are no longer the minority.
A poll in Spanish sports newspaper AS revealed fans wanted Navas to start ahead of Casillas against Basel. That’s a view seemingly not shared by Ancelotti, who hinted in no uncertain terms that Casillas is currently his outright No.1 in Monday’s pre-match press conference. “For me the matter is closed,” the Italian said. “I don’t have to put an end to it with words. I have made myself clear. I’m not going to fuel a debate that doesn’t exist within the squad. I will not speak about the goalkeepers this season.” He added: “Casillas has a lot of experience, he understands the situation very well and I will sort it out without any problems.”
Ancelotti defended Casillas to the hilt after Saturday’s derby defeat. He said he didn’t hear any of the whistles and commented that Casillas should be the last person to blame for Tiago’s opener, which came from another set-piece and left Casillas stranded on his line. Karim Benzema lost the midfielder and he powered his header home at the near post. Casillas may not have directly been to blame for the goal but it is his job to organise his defence effectively and instil confidence in his players. He did, and is doing, neither.
The stories of him being a ‘mole’ inside the Madrid dressing room to try and destabilise Mourinho’s time at the Bernabeu have not helped. The goalkeeper refuted those claims during the Portuguese manager’s time at the club but they have not receded, not even since Mourinho left for Chelsea. Much was also made of Alvaro Arbeloa’s apparent snub of the shot-stopper as the defender encouraged all of his teammates except the goalkeeper before the first leg of this season’s Spanish Super Cup.
Casillas is a strong figure within the club. Fifteen years as a first-team player and a cabinet packed with top team and individual honours ensure that. The fear over the summer was that his power could destabilise the squad whether he starts or not. Questions would persist over whether Casillas should start or whether the new man in town should be handed that honour. It seemed best for all parties that the Spain international should opt for pastures new, a fresh start to make life easier for him and for the club he loves. The decisions made over the summer, which included last season’s league regular Diego Lopez moving to AC Milan, have not made things easy.
Whether he makes an error or not tonight, or in the coming matches, the Italian will stick with his club captain for the time being. After such a long spell sitting on the bench Casillas needs games to restore his confidence. He needs good performances, too, to win over those that once idolised him and saw him as Real Madrid personified. Iker Casillas has achieved it all at Real Madrid and the one thing he fears most is losing the faith of the Madrid support. He wants to end his days at the club in a good light rather than as the enemy and the next few weeks and months will be crucial in him achieving that.Reuse content