Icon departed for Porto last July after 25 years with the club
|A tearful Casillas bids Real Madrid farewell|
It was the 13th of July 2015 when one of the longest-lasting and successful relationships in modern football came to an end as Iker Casillas left Real Madrid to join Porto.
It had been a relationship marked by highs in the 25 years the man from Mostoles had spent attached to the club; assuming his spot in the first team at the tender age of 18 due to injuries, he went on to claim an unlikely Champions League success that first year in a season that had been shambolic until Vicente Del Bosque took the helm.
He went on to play 725 games for Los Blancos, claiming three Champions League titles in all as well as five domestic leagues; for Spain he captained La Roja to an unprecedented treble, the 2010 World Cup being bookended by the European Championships of 2008 and 2012.
That latter success coming off the back of dethroning Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona domestically can, albeit with hindsight, be seen as marking the peak and the starting point of the goalkeeper’s slow descent.
The details are well known, and hardly merit rehashing here now; but essentially Casillas ceased to be indispensable, first at club level and, finally, this summer for the national team.
It’s a curious quirk that the man who saw fit to replace him at the latter turned out to be that very same Del Bosque who had shown such faith in his during that crisis period of the 1999/2000 season at Madrid.
And ultimately, despite some missteps following Spain’s second round exit at this summer’s Euros, they went their separate ways on good terms, with Del Bosque rowing back from his previous criticism of the great keeper’s reaction to being dropped during on interview on Radio Onda Cero last week.
Indeed, the pair were to be pictured together smiling to show that no ill feeling persisted.
So, who has benefited from that departure almost a year ago to the day? It could be argued that it’s been good for all concerned.
For Madrid, the Casillas question had become political; Jose Mourinho’s decision to keep him out of the side in his final season once his fitness had returned was one of politics, not football, and it was one that his successor Carlo Ancelotti would be left to wrestle with without every appearing to fully resolve.
Once Adrian Adan had proven below below the required level, Mourinho recruited the more able Diego Lopez from Sevilla and in Ancelotti’s first season he persevered with the Galician in the league with Casillas getting the nod in cup games.
In his final season, Casillas returned to favour as Lopez departed for Milan but by now the footballing reasons to look elsewhere had become apparent.
When the time came last summer for Casillas to depart the club engaged in an ultimately fruitless attempt to sign the man who succeeded him this summer with the national team, David De Gea, but found within their ranks his replacement in the figure of Keylor Navas.
Navas has risen to the challenge, showing that the instincts that marked him out as arguably the league’s standout goalkeeper at Levante hadn’t been blunted by a season as back-up for Casillas.
As for Casillas himself, there have been ups and downs but he’s established himself as a popular figure at Porto.
There have been mistakes, chiefly when he misjudged a Willian free-kick during a victory against nemesis Mourinho’s Chelsea in September and during a defeat to Vitoria de Guimaraes in January, but his performance as his side claimed a first away win at Benfica in four years the following month is one that will live long in the memories of supporters.
Aside from being a big name arriving at a club where the big names are routinely movingly out, the Spaniard’s professionalism and dedication has made him a welcome addition in the dressing room.
For Casillas, no longer being at the centre of a political storm has allowed to once again focus on the football.
Back at Madrid, whatever the club decides to do going forward between the sticks, it will no longer be picked apart by the sort of factionalism that overshadowed everything to do with Casillas during his final two and a half years at the club