He was to be the pacifier. Carlo Ancelotti inherited a Real Madrid dressing room that was full of problems left by the departing Jose Mourinho, of which the battle for the spot between the sticks, taking place between Iker Casillas and former deputy Diego Lopez, was a headline grabber. Two games into the new season and Ancelotti seems to have made up his mind. Two games into the season and Real Madrid’s internal dilemma has not gone away.
Given the way things went for Real Madrid in pre-season, the general feeling was that Casillas was going to get the call to be reinstalled back into the Real Madrid starting line-up and start an official game for his club for the first time since 23rd January. The fact that he played in Real Madrid’s most important pre-season game against Mourinho’s Chelsea was a hint that the Mostoles-born legend was set to find his way back between the posts.
Nonetheless, Casillas was overlooked for the club’s La Liga opener against Real Betis in favour of rival Lopez. Asked after the game as to why he stuck with the latter, Ancelotti simply replied that few details separated the two when he made his choice, and that the identity of the goalkeeper for the next game was still up for grabs. Die-hard Casillas fans thought that the custodian was being given a rest after being on international duty with Spain.
Yet Ancelotti chose to stick with the former Villarreal man once again in Real Madrid’s visit to Granada, and after a game where Lopez pulled off a few nice saves, the ex-AC Milan coach could not continue hinting at a change of roles imminently. “Diego has played the first game and the second one. At this moment he is playing well and that's what happened, nothing more."
And so, as things stand, nothing has changed for Casillas in the past few months, despite being more than happy to see Mourinho walk out of the door, with the Portuguese tactician being the one who did everything in his power to prevent him from playing last season.
The situation is quite a strange one for the decorated goalkeeper. In his entire career with Los Blancos, all his fellow superstars have fallen down the pecking order with the various coaches that took the helm of the majestic club at some point. All, except him. He was the one guarantee in any Real Madrid side, and his feats spanning from Euro 2008 to Euro 2012 cemented his place as the best goalkeeper of his generation and one of the very best in the history of the game.
To Lopez’s credit, the ex-canterano has performed admirably since arriving from Sevilla in the last winter transfer window. Some Ultra – fanatic – fans heckled Casillas with jeers when the 2010 World Cup winner took the pitch in Raul’s testimonial match recently. In their eyes, he was the reason Mourinho was gone. He was the reason so many dressing room rifts occurred last season. And alongside journalist and love interest Sara Carbonero, he was the “mole” that revealed all those stories to the press.
His eyes and mannerisms in the game against Granada said it all: Looking elsewhere and with a general feeling of sadness on his face, he no longer seems to be at the heart of this Madrid side. In a recent survey conducted by pro-Real Madrid newspaper Marca, around 75% of supporters said that the club captain should consider his options elsewhere.
And realistically speaking, the goalkeeper might just do that, considering that the 2014 World Cup is fast approaching. In a recent interview, former mentor Vicente del Bosque voiced his support for Casillas, and hinted that he will be his number one choice no matter what. “Treating everyone equally is sometimes the greatest injustice”, reflected the national team coach. Nevertheless, Casillas needs playing minutes in order to prove that he is the best in the world. An exit might be a bit late now, but nothing can be ruled out next January or when the summer transfer window opens again.
Casillas’ case is one that evokes emotions. Most fans are sad to see their adored figure warming the bench and feel angry that Ancelotti has not reinstated him back into the starting eleven after recovering from his broken hand. However, from a football point of view, there is no reason to relegate Lopez. His work has been outstanding and his continuation between the sticks should be the natural outcome.
Real Madrid have the luxury of having two extremely talented goalkeepers. Of course, one of them will always end up being unhappy, such is the way custodians have it in the game. Casillas might be a popular choice, but Lopez has not done anything wrong during his second stint at the Santiago Bernabeu. As the old saying goes, if it’s not broken, why fix it? At present, Ancelotti thinks just that.