The Real Goalkeeping Conundrum

The Real Goalkeeping Conundrum


22nd December 2013 started a saga which to this day has not ended. Antonio Adan replaced club captain Iker Casillas in the starting lineup for the 2-3 loss to Malaga in the league.

Jose Mourinho defended his controversial decision by saying: “It’s a technical decision. The coach analyses the situation, looks at the players at his disposal and chooses his team. At the moment, for me and my coaching staff, Adán is better than Iker”.

Casillas soon regained his place and it became crystal clear to everyone, if it wasn’t already, that Adan’s selection was a political decision. His selection stemmed from a dispute between Mourinho and Casillas. However, Iker soon suffered an injury in a game against Valencia.

The fans and the press all began to panic. Games against Barcelona and United were coming up in the Copa, La Liga and Champions League. Most believed that Adan was not at the level required to handle games of such a hugh billing. Mourinho came to the same conclusion and bought former Real Madrid youth product, Diego Lopez from Sevilla.

The Bernebeu had seen him in action before. For 2 seasons, from 2005-2007 he had served as backup to Iker Casillas. In the span of 3 weeks, he eradicated all doubts about his quality. He produced a solid performance in his debut against Barcelona. He was Madrid’s standout performer against Manchester United in the Champions League. After going ahead 2-1, Madrid faced a late onslaught from Rooney and co. Lopez produced a string of fine saves, showcasing his reflexes and good command of the box.

After the game Sir Alex Ferguson said “Iker wouldn’t have saved the shots that the boy Lopez did. Going out to Danny Welbeck in the first half, going down at Robin van Persie’s feet, coming out and whacking Nemanja Vidic in the head … Casillas isn’t that type of goalkeeper.”

Inspite of his standout performances, most fans believed that Casillas would return to the starting lineup upon his return from injury. However,Lopez retained the spot for the rest of the season.

Mourinho left and Ancelotti came but Casillas has still remained on the bench. This demonstrates that there was something beyond the Casillas-Mourinho feud that led to him being dropped to the bench. Ancelotti has handled the dual goalkeeper situation remarkably.

He has managed to stand by his decision to retain Lopez as first choice goalkeeper in the league while also satisfying Casillas by making him Copa and CL goalkeeper. This decision reflects Ancelotti’s tactical and managerial nous. The decision to play two goalkeepers maintained harmony in the squad, reduced the press’ scrutiny on the situation and also demonstrated to the squad that selection will be based on merit, not reputation or past laurels. There was no reason to drop Lopez and therefore leaving him out would’ve sent out wrong signals.

This season has seen both goalkeepers play at a very high level. Lopez has 10 clean sheets in 26 league appearances with an average of 2.19 saves per game and an average of 1 goal conceded per game ( as per Casillas has 3 clean sheets in 7 Champions League appearances with an average of 0.71 goals conceded per game and 4.80 saves per goal. Casillas also has not conceded a single goal in 8 appearances in the Copa on Madrid’s way to the final. He also set an all time Spanish record for 952 minutes without conceding goals in all competitions.

While this situation has played out well this season, Ancelotti cannot carry on this practice next season. Both goalkeepers have contract beyond the summer and Carlo must find a long term solution to the goalkeeping conundrum. So who should Ancelotti choose and why?

Firstly, let’s examine the case of Casillas’ inclusion. Casillas, at the age of 32, still has many years left as a top-class goalkeeper. He has shown that this tough period has not affected his skills and reflexes. He produced a string of world class saves against Juventus in Turin and recently produced a stunning save at point blank range from Julian Draxler.

He has maintained a dignified image by accepting his role in the team and has shown no sign of unhappiness. Therefore, bringing him back to the team would not affect the goal-keeping in any adverse way. However, with a player of Casillas’ stature, there is a political aspect as well. Casillas remains one of the most influential players in the dressing room of Madrid and Spain.

He is a fan favourite and a club legend. By making him the No.1, Ancelotti will be pleasing a large section of the fans and the Madrid press outlets such as AS and Marca, who unfortunately have a huge influence in the capital. It is an open secret that Florentino Perez also wishes Casillas to be reinstated. As Spain captain, he is also integral in ensuring good relations with Barcelona players.

Now let’s look at Diego Lopez. He has been under intense pressure and scrutiny ever since his transfer. However, he has very much risen to the challenge and has given neither Mourinho or Ancelotti a reason to drop him. His stye of goalkeeping is quite different from Casillas. He is better at distributing the ball and has better command of the box. He is also more aggressive and is willing to charge.

Casillas on the other hand has unparalleled reflexes and is perhaps the best in the world in one-on-one situations. Similar to reinstating Casillas, Ancelotti would not be arming the quality of goalkeeping at Madrid by keeping Lopez in goal.

Both of them are world class keepers and Madridistas are lucky to have to extraordinary keepers. Ancelotti must come to a decision. If he sells Lopez, Madrid will make a sizable profit on the paltry 3.5 million that was spent on bringing him to Madrid. If he decides to sell Casillas, there will be no shortage of suitors for him and not to mention a huge transfer fee involved. Let us make sure we support whatever decision Ancelotti decides to make.

Booing and insulting either goalkeeper is detrimental to Madrid and therefore is counterproductive. Hala Madrid.