The Sports Sermon: Casillas already in soccer’s pantheon

October 30, 2014

I recently came across an online piece written by international soccer writer Kris Voakes in the wake of this weekend’s clásico match between Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona. In a section of the piece chronicling Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas’ contributions to his sides’ 3-1 victory over their hated rivals, the writer described the Spanish icon as “far from the goalkeeper he could have become.”

The goalkeeper he could’ve become? Pump your breaks, kid. That man is a national treasure. 

The notion that San Iker could be regarded as anything other than a living football legend is absolutely ludicrous, and really only serves to illustrate just how short-term the memory of a sports fan can be.

Racking up 486 appearances in a Real Madrid jersey—the most ever appearances—and appearing for Spain at every World Cup final since 2002, all the while captaining both sides, is monumental. Not to mention the fact that the guy just happens to be the third captain in the history of the entire sport to lift the World Cup, Champions League, and Euro Championship trophies all in his career. Save for the Ballon d’Or, the capital club icon has won it all.

If you need more proof than a full trophy case, I’d direct your attention to a few of his individual performances. Bar the very strange refereeing decisions made during the game, Spain’s triumph over Paraguay in South Africa stands in my mind as one of Casillas’ finest performances for his national side.

He’s also had his work cut out for him at his club over the last few years. The Real Madrid defense on paper is certainly impressive. But if you watch a game, you’ll quickly pick up on the notion that Los Blancos are not a team concerned with defense. Defenders Dani Carvajal and Marcelo bomb down the wings regularly, trying to contribute offensively. Even during the time of Guti and Raúl, fellow defender Roberto Carlos was leaving the rest of the defense far, far behind. Casillas has always had to deal with a less than sure defense and it’s remarkable he’s reached the heights he has. It’s even more remarkable the nerves only just caught up with him last year.

Fans of the game, however, seem ready to throw all his achievements out the window after a year of uncertainty under a hostile coach. Casillas made mistakes. He most certainly was nowhere near the level we’ve come to expect from the talisman, but one terrible year shouldn’t undo 10 phenomenal ones in the hearts and minds of those who love the game.

Part of the reason the world is ready to move on from el capitano is because we’ve found someone to replace him at the pinnacle of the game. Manuel Neuer is the hot new face in the game. He’s bigger, more German (good ol’ glory hunters), and is trying to innovate how keepers interact with the game.

Neuer fancies himself more of a “sweeper keeper” than anything else, which, as anyone who’s ever played a game of pickup soccer will know, can be incredibly dangerous. Bayern and German fans’ hearts have jumped into their mouths more than once watching their man between the sticks charge out into the run of play to intercept a ball or dribble around an opponent. His style is certainly unconventional, but it’s new and different. It’s certainly more exciting than Casillas’ more reserved, traditional tendencies.

That’s why if you google Casillas, article after article will be discussing his downfall. That’s why Keylor Navas is confident of his chances of usurping the starter. Did he have a terrible World cup? Yes. Did he almost lose Madrid the Champions League final? Yes. Does that somehow demote him in the historical hierarchy of goal guarders after all he’s achieved and all he means to both club and country? Hell no. 

So, here’s the deal. Casillas is already the goalkeeper he could’ve become. This last year, he has simply fallen further from his lofty standards than one would expect. Keep it in perspective, he’s reached the absolute zenith of goalkeeper-dom and is in excellent company. When we talk about great keepers, we talk about Yashin, van der sar, Kahn, Lehmann, and now Casillas.     

At this point, the nickname “el santo” is merely a formality. Expect the Vatican to come calling when Iker hangs up his boots.


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