For those of us that have taken an ever keener interest in Spanish football in the last decade or so since Sky brought it to our regular television watching there have been two names that are synonymous with great goalkeeping in La Liga. The two dominant forces in Spain – Real Madrid and Barcelona – have without doubt produced world class guardians of the net in Iker Casillas and Víctor Valdés. Valdés has been a regular starter at Barca for over 10 years and notched up over five hundred games for the Catalan club. But it has always been Casillas who has been more highly prized.
Now aged 32, Casillas has achieved more than any keeper in the modern game. Five La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey and two Champions Cup medals at domestic level set him aside as special but couple this with winning the World Cup as Spain’s team captain and two European Championship trophies and you have an incredible record.
Not surprisingly it all began at an early age for Casillas. He made his full debut at age eighteen in the 1998-99 season and within a few short months replaced the veteran German international Bodo Illgner as number one at the Bernabéu. The following season he became the youngest keeper to win the Champions League when Madrid beat Valencia in the final just four days after his nineteenth birthday. During the next twelve seasons he has barely missed a match and such was his importance to his club that he was awarded a lifetime contract in February 2008 when he signed an amazing nine year deal that tied him to the club he loved until 2017. This will even be extended if he plays 30 competitive games in the final year of the deal. If any club wants to poach Casillas and many have been mooted in the last few years particularly Manchester City there is a buy out clause set at around £113,000,000.
With over six hundred and fifty games under his belt Casillas now ranks second in the list of appearances for Madrid with only Raúl in front of him on seven hundred and forty one games. In February 2009 at the age of twenty seven he eased past Francisco “Paco” Buyo’s goalkeeping record of four hundred and fifty four games played and looked set to become the first Madrid player to play over a thousand games for the club. Surely with potentially another thirteen years ahead of him in the game he would break record after record? What he couldn’t have planned for was the arrival of the “special one” – José Mourinho. At first all was well but then on 22nd December 2012 Mourinho did the unthinkable and dropped Casillas to the bench. It was such a shock that it not only became the talking point in Spain but also resonated around the world. To date almost a year later and Casillas is still not back in favour and although Mourinho has returned to Chelsea new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti still prefers Diego López as his number one. Casillas still publicly emphasises his love for his club and desire to win more trophies at Real but perhaps it will soon be time for him to move on and re-invigorate his career. He has won more caps for Spain than anyone else having played 151 times for his country but if he wants to add to this total he must surely be playing regular first team football.
Superstars Between the Sticks
Before Casillas put his indelible stamp on the history of Real Madrid the club was renowned for producing top class keepers. Most of these are legends in Spanish football but less well known to a British audience like Paco Buyo and Miguel Ángel but two others that may be familiar are Bodo Illgner and Santiago Cañizares.
Illgner was the German between the sticks in that infamous game between England and Germany. No, not the 1966 World Cup Final but the 1990 semi final which saw Gazza’s tears and the most tense of penalty shoot outs ever. Illgner it was that held his nerve and made the save which broke English hearts, earned Stuart Pearce a pizza contract and ensured it was Germany not England who made it to the final. A Final they would go on to win 1-0 against Maradona and his Argentina side.
Memories of Santiago Cañizares will more be focused on his four hundred plus games for Valencia but he was actually a product of the Real Madrid youth set up and spent eight years with Los Meringues. This time was separated by two years as number one at Celta during 1992-94. He will perhaps be better recalled when you consider his shock of bleached blond hair coupled with a rather fetching bright orange keeper’s jersey. At the height of his career he was widely regarded as one of the top goalkeepers in the world an opinion that was endorsed by none other than Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel.