Iker Casillas: The Heart Of The Matter

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Iker Casillas will forever be regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers in soccer history. He has won an extraordinary amount of trophies during his twenty-year professional career with Real Madrid, Porto, and the Spanish National team, the latter of which saw La Furia Roja sandwich a FIFA World Cup between two European Championships with Casillas as captain. At club level, he is a six-time domestic league winner (five times with Madrid, once with Porto), two-time winner of the Copa Del Rey, three-time winner of the UEFA Champions League, and possesses an exponential amount of individual goalkeeping records. A match in April of 2018 showcased Casillas in his 1000th professional contest. Idolized by millions around the globe, it appears as though Casillas has nothing left to prove and his legacy will forever be cemented, albeit a couple speed bumps.

That being said, supporters and rivals alike were shocked to hear that he was rushed to hospital on the 1st of May this year after suffering a heart attack in training. Complaining of chest pains, the Spanish legend, two weeks shy of his 38th birthday, was found to have suffered an ‘acute myocardial infarction’ and was confined to a hospital bed for five days. Thankfully, he was listed as stable and walked out under his own power once he was discharged. Social media and soccer blogs spent the entirety of those five days offering their opinions and debating whether “San Iker” (a nickname he earned after saving two crucial penalties against the Republic of Ireland during a Round of 16 game in the 2002 FIFA World Cup) should consider ever playing again. False reports emerged stating that Casillas would announce his retirement at some point during the offseason, something that Casillas vehemently denied. He took to both Instagram and Twitter, saying he would announce his own retirement when the proper time came, through no other sources but he himself.

Therefore, his followers were just as astonished when on July 1st (exactly two months to the day he suffered the heart attack), photos emerged of him reporting to Porto’s first training session of the new 2019-20 season. While no photos of him actually training in uniform were found, word buzzed around that Casillas was on the right road to fully recovering from his heart attack, and would continue his illustrious career. Yet, the most recent update on the matter is that he will assume a coaching role to mentor the many young players Porto is set to boast this season, with no official date or word slated on whether he will in fact don his gloves again. Casillas claims that he will embrace this role, and that he puts all of his trust in what the doctors are telling him. Given that soccer has a multitude of casualties that have suffered from fatal heart attacks on the pitch, it is remarkable and miraculous that training staff were able to rush him to a hospital once initial signs were detected and reported by the Spanish legend himself. Casillas’s only other significant career injuries have been a broken hand that sidelined him for three months in January of 2013, and being forced to leave a Champions League game with bruised ribs thanks to an errant elbow from teammate Sergio Ramos in September that same year.

Source: (Image Left) @IkerCasillas, (Image Right) Miguel Riopa/Getty Images

While Casillas will be considered a legend no matter what the eventual ruling on his health is, does this catastrophic event mar or taint his historic career in any way? Casillas earned his adored reputation by showcasing a fighting spirit that transcended into long-term greatness. Born right in Madrid, he had affiliations to his boyhood club ever since he was 9 years old. He climbed the ladder through their reserve system, and was starting in the 2000 Champions League final against Valencia just days after he turned 19 (keeping a clean sheet, nonetheless). At the same time, he was representing Spain in numerous U16, U17, and U21 tournaments, before earning his first cap for the Senior National Team just after the 2000 Champions League success.

But what respectable career is void of bumps along the way? Casillas lost his place in Real Madrid’s first team midway through the 2001-02 season to Cesar Sanchez after a few shoddy performances. Returning to the Champions League final once again in 2002, Sanchez went down with a knee injury in the second half while leading 2-1 over Bayer Leverkusen, and Casillas was called upon to preserve the victory. Making three absolutely spectacular saves in the dying minutes, Real Madrid were Champions League winners once again, and Casillas would earn his starting spot back. A few weeks later, due to a freak injury suffered by Santiago Canizares, who severed a tendon in his foot by cutting it on a bottle of aftershave, Casillas was named first-choice keeper for Spain in the 2002 World Cup, and would go on to earn the aforementioned nickname, “San Iker”, taking Spain to the quarterfinals.

For the next decade, Casillas was unbeatable, and nobody came close to even threatening his custodial job for club or country. After captaining Spain to a 1-0 win over Germany in the 2008 European Championship and giving the country their first major tournament win in forty-four years, Casillas would then lift the World Cup as Spain were victorious this time against a vicious Dutch side. Casillas and La Furia Roja would defend their European title in 2012, with Casillas conceding only one goal throughout the entirety of the tournament.

Then, another speed bump in his career; well, more so a sink hole rather than a speed bump. Jose Mourinho’s three-year term as manager at Real Madrid re-aggravated the tense rivalry between Los Blancos and Barcelona right in the midst of Spain’s national triumphs in major tournaments. Casillas began dating sports journalist Sara Carbonero in 2009, and there was speculation that he would leak gossip regarding Mourinho’s ‘questionable tactics’ from the Madrid dressing rooms to Carbonero. While Casillas attempted to quell the feuds between the El Classico super-clubs, Mourinho felt as though Casillas didn’t have the fire to earn his place in the team any longer, and he was dropped for backup keeper Antonio Adan in late 2012. After earning his place back just a few games later due to an Adan red card, the aforementioned hand injury in January of 2013 sidelined Casillas until April, forcing Mourinho to sign Diego Lopez from Sevilla to tend the pipes even beyond Casillas’s return to full health. Casillas’s resentment to being benched and his leaking of team information to Carbonero led to various Madrid fans giving him a new nickname, “topor” (a combination of “topo” and “portero”, Spanish for mole, and goalkeeper, respectively). He and Carbonero wed in 2016, and have two sons together, though she was unfortunately diagnosed with ovarian cancer a few weeks after his heart attack (talk about woeful timing).

The 2013 arrival of manager Carlo Ancelotti rid Madrid of Mourinho, though Lopez would keep his place as the Real Madrid starter for domestic league matches, forcing Casillas to tend goal solely for the Copa Del Rey, and Champions League fixtures. Madrid would go on to win both of those competitions in which Casillas featured, conceding only 12 goals in 24 total matches. Lopez departed, Madrid signed Costa Rican World Cup standout Keylor Navas, and Casillas returned to the starting lineup in the Spanish League for one final season before he was transferred to Porto in 2015. His final contest for Los Blancos was his 725th competitive fixture in 16 seasons for the team, leaving him second all time to Raul in appearances.

His four years in Portugal have had both ups and downs, though overall he has preserved his legacy by continuing to be a standout keeper with sharp reflexes, decent distribution, and wonderful communication. Another domestic title was added to his trophy collection, and the 2018-19 season marked his twentieth consecutive campaign in the Champions League. His heart attack was most certainly a shock to the footballing world, though his continual recovery has eased some concern over whether he wouldn’t even have a choice but to retire. His accolades validate that he has nothing else to prove, but “San Iker” has always been a stubborn competitor. He would most certainly want to close the curtain under his own volition. Diehard fans of his career, including myself, would hate to see him forced into calling it quits after overcoming the scattered blemishes on his illustrious career such as the ‘topor’ incident, or the horrendous exhibition displayed during the 2014 World Cup. I suppose only time will tell in the near future on whether or not this mentoring job with Porto will stick, or if we’ll ever see Casillas between the sticks once again. His has been a career with unprecedented highs that were tumoured with temporary lapses in form or squabbles with inner-management, though titles and statistics don’t lie. All of the footballing world have been a stage to Iker Casillas’s career, and its unpredictable next chapter will keep us in suspense for weeks or months to come.

What do you think will happen?

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