As the saying goes, legends are made not born and it’s fair to say that former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas is testament to that.
The Spanish goalkeeper enjoyed a hugely successful time at the Santiago Bernabeu. With 725 appearances for Real, Casillas is second only to fellow youth academy graduate Raul – who featured 741 times for Madrid – in the all-time appearances list for the club.
Spending 16 years in the Madrid first team saw him win: five La Liga titles (2000/01, 2002/03, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2011/12), two Copa del Rey titles (2010/11, 2013/14), four Supercopa de España titles (2001, 2003, 2008, 2012), three UEFA Champions League titles (1999/2000, 2001/02, 2013/14), two UEFA Super Cups (2002, 2014), two Intercontinental Cups (1998, 2002) and the FIFA Club World Cup (2014).
Casillas joined Madrid as a nine-year-old boy back in 1990 and rose up through the ranks at the Santiago Bernabeu over the following nine years. Famous for his safe hands, the young Casillas dropped a clanger one weekend as a youngster – after forgetting to post his father’s football predictions, in which he’d predicted all 14 results correct, seeing his family miss out on an estimated €1.2 million (£1 million.)
He made his first team debut on November 27, 1997 at the age of 16, in a Champions League fixture against Rosenborg. The competition would be kind to the Madrid academy graduate in his early years playing for the first team – as he went on to become the youngest ever goalkeeper to feature in a Champions League final in 2000, playing in the 3-0 win over Valencia just four days after his 19th birthday.
Some poor performances saw him lose his place in the side to backup goalkeeper César Sánchez during the 2001/02 season. However, he was able to redeem himself with another spectacular performance in the 2002 Champions League final – after he came on to replace an injured Sánchez and produce a string of spectacular saves to deny Bayer Leverkusen and secure a 2-1 win for Los Blancos.
The 2007/08 season proved to be a good one for Casillas – as, not only did he help Real Madrid to claim their 31st La Liga title, but he conceded just 32 goals in 36 games to claim the prestigious Zamora Trophy. In addition to this, both he and club captain Raul were awarded with contracts for life on February 14, 2008 and Casillas’ form alsosaw him rewarded with a spot in the UEFA Team of the Year for a second time.
In February 2009, he equalled Paco Buyo’s record of 454 appearances for a goalkeeper and was then able to claim the record outright at only 27 years old. That summer saw him linked with a record £129m move to Premier League side Manchester City, but Casillas himself stated that he “had no intention of leaving” his boyhood club.
Following the departures of captain Raul and vice-captain Guti during the 2010/11 season, Casillas was named as the new captain of Real Madrid. He was given the nod ahead of Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Gonzalo Higuain – as all three had to settle as being named as vice-captains.
Casillas claimed the IFFHS Best Goalkeeper award in 2011/12, making him the second goalkeeper to win it four times – behind Gianluigi Buffon – but the first to win the award an impressive four times in a row. He would then go on to win it again for a fifth successive time the following season, making him the first person to win five IFFHS Best Goalkeeper awards.
The season also saw him play his 600th game for the club – a 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao on January 22, 2012. Casillas would go on to claim his fifth La Liga title – his first as captain – four months later, following a 3-0 win at Bilbao on May 2.
Jose Mourinho’s arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu saw Casillas and the former Chelsea manager suffer a series of sour disagreements, which was said to have started following the Portuguese manager’s decision to drop Casillas in favour of Antonio Adan for a La Liga match against Malaga on December 22, 2012.
A serious injury to Casillas one month later caused Mourinho to sign Diego López from Sevilla. López was installed as first choice goalkeeper ahead of Adan and kept his place, even when Casillas was passed fit to return to action.
Mourinho departed at the end of that season, but Casillas would find himself benched again by new manager Carlo Ancelotti. He finally started his first game in 238 days in a Champions League clash against Galatasaray, but it turned out to be another sour note for the stopper – as he was injured in the 14th minute by an accidental elbow by Ramos, while coming to collect a cross.
Despite remaining as second choice in La Liga following his return from injury once again, Casillas continued to be picked for Madrid’s Champions League and Copa del Rey games – as he went on to set a new record of 962 minutes without conceding a goal.
February 2014 would also see him set another record, when he became the first goalkeeper to play in every round of the Copa del Rey prior to the final without conceding a goal. Even though he was unable to keep that record up in the final, he still managed to captain Real to a 2-1 win over rivals Barcelona.
Casillas also captained Madrid to a 4-1 Champions League Final victory over neighbours Atletico Madrid on May 24, 2014 – as Madrid’s tenth triumph in the competition saw him win the trophy for the third time in his career. Wins in the European Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup followed the season after and Casillas also broke Edwin van der Sar’s record for the most clean sheets in Champions League history.
However, after much speculation regarding his future, Casillas left Madrid on July 11, 2015 and signed for Portuguese side Porto on a two-year deal. The club’s conduct in his exit was criticized – as his parents claimed that he had been forced out of the club by president Florentino Pérez, who received calls to quit from fans.
Despite the sour note on which his career at the club ended, Casillas – who also captained Spain to one World Cup and two European Championship victories between 2008 and 2012 – is without a doubt a true Real Madrid legend, who is respected by fans and fellow professionals alike.
Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Buffon summed it up perfectly in his message to Casillas following his switch to Porto: “You’ve always been a Real Madrid icon, but above all you’ve been one of the best representatives of our position on the pitch.
“Good luck in your new adventure, it’ll be strange to see you in another shirt from now on. Go Iker!”