Has any player who plied his trade for el Real Madrid Club de Football drawn such a division among the supporters as Iker Casillas? Never before have lines been drawn so clearly in the sand; civil war has erupted. What caused this to happen? How did one man fall so far? Why is a two time UEFA Champions League winner, two time UEFA European Champion winner, leader of the first Spanish squad to win the FIFA World Cup and five time La Liga winner sitting on the bench? How is the man who's won every UEFA trophy bar one not starting every week for the greatest club in football? Fasten your seatbelt and prepare for landing because we're going to start from the bottom for our answers.
Good versus evil. A rag-tag militia fighting for freedom against a foreign, professionally trained army with seemingly limitless resources. A man who started with nothing and worked his way to the top of the ladder. What do these conflicts conjure in your mind? The Rebel Alliance versus the Galactic Empire? Mel Gibson leading his Scottish rebels against King Edward I's men in Braveheart? Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness? How about Diego Lopez and Iker Casillas fighting to be Real Madrid's starting goalkeeper? I believe part of the reason there is such a division on such a seemingly simple issue is because Casillas and Lopez now represent concepts greater than themselves. Iker Casillas, the man who has it all, the trophies, the fans, the fame and the media was replaced by Diego Lopez, the man who worked towards his modest success. Iker is Darth Vader with his Stormtrooper media corp while Diego is Luke Skywalker, aided only by his hard work, humility and undermanned alliance of his family and fans. To stand by Diego means to stand for equality, meritocracy that no matter what your name, you will get a fair chance to prove yourself on the pitch. Diego Lopez represents the blue collar worker who works to exhaustion everyday to keep his job. He is proof that in a team of Galacticos and established international superstars, you have an opportunity at greatness if you work hard everyday, even if you don't leave your home every international break.
If Diego Lopez is William Wallace, Iker Casillas is King Edward I of England. In the eyes of Diego Lopez's supporters, Casillas and his supporters have a sense of entitlement that since he is San Iker Casillas, he can do as he pleases. In Braveheart, King Edward does what he wants because he is King Edward. He doesn't care for the Scott's feelings, well being or health because he doesn't have to; they're all below him. This is who Casillas now embodies: since he won everything in the past, he can now call the shots. To support Casillas, one supports the notion that the last name is all that matters; to support Casillas means to spit in the face of all those who work for what they have. Since Casillas is now healthy, he should replace Lopez because he is Iker Casillas not because he's been playing better, this is what his opponents state. Also, the media storm supporting Casillas paradoxically doesn't help Casillas at all. All it does is give the Lopez supporters more proof that extraneous forces (rather than actual performance) is/will be the cause of Iker starting more matches. The positive press just plays into the notion that they are the Emperor's mercenary force. The rumors swirling around from last season also don't aid Casillas' cause either. Claims of him going through training in a lackluster manner support him representing an unconnected, aloof foreign ruler. Ignore that delivering an ultimatum to Perez has greater potential to backfire than actually work, the fact that Casillas reportedly had the nerves to give such a demand to the president show him as a man with too much power. So when Casillas is the high flying celebrity and Lopez is the blue collar success story, how can one not support Diego Lopez? It wasn't always like this however...
What if I told you this teenager would be Public Enemy #1?
In 1990, Iker Casillas, a then 9 year old boy, began his long and fruitful career with Real Madrid by joining La Fabrica. Eight years later he made his debut with the senior team as a 17 year old teenager. By 2000, Casillas was Real Madrid's starting goalkeeper and became the youngest player to start a Champions League final (only recently broken in 2012) at age 19. Two years later, Real Madrid were back in the Champions League final but Casillas was not in the starting lineup. While everyone remembers that goal by Zidane, the match also had a 21 year old Casillas come on for Cesar Sanchez who left due to injury. What happened next went down in the annals of football history; Casillas became possessed by the footballing gods with a string of impeccable saves and thus, Real Madrid's starting goalkeeper for the next decade was found. Five years later in the 2007/08 season, Casillas had one of his best years. Conceding only 32 goals in 36 La Liga games, Iker won the Zamora trophy and led Real Madrid to their 31st La Liga title; over summer he led La Roja to their second European Championship. Two years later, Casillas came off a slightly disappointing league finish to take Spain to the World Cup and win it all with a man of the match performance in the final. Returning to Madrid, he became captain of Real Madrid with Raul's departure and kept a clean sheet against Barcelona in the final match of the Copa del Rey, an important factor that led to us winning it for the first time in 19 years On January 22, 2012, Casillas earned his 600th cap for Real Madrid and a few months later, took Real Madrid to their 32nd and his 5th La Liga title. So how did such a legendary player for Real Madrid, a man who bleeds white on the pitch, a boy who was born and raised in Madrid fall out of the heavens?
To quote Harvey Dent, "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." It's that simple. Casillas started out in the position Lopez is now, a hard worker who fought through the system, he rose to the call of duty in the Champions League and was integral to our winning of many league titles. He was humble, lovable, he showed us that you can work your way to the top of the mountain if you put in the effort. Iker was still just another boy living in Madrid to the fans, they had a connection to Casillas that was missing with superstars like Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo. He was the hometown hero, but after 2008, things began to change... After 2008, Casillas started to become a superstar like those before him, by the time Mourinho entered Madrid, it was undeniable that Casillas was a Galactico... at least unofficially. By the time Mourinho was at Madrid, Casillas was renown worldwide, he had a beautiful girlfriend and his sponsorship's grew; at the cost of this was his embodiment of we, the fans. He was a superstar now and the notion of him being a humble Madridleno disappeared. As Casillas' performance started slipping in the 2012/13 season, he started to lose support among the fans. Then when he got injured, replaced and benched, the outrage was nonexistent because he was no longer the same humble hero in our eyes. Have you ever wondered what happens after the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire in the Battle of Endor? The answer is, they become the Empire! In the beginning, the story is rosy for the Alliance, but as years turn into centuries, they too become corrupted and turn into the next Empire. If Real Madrid is the Rome of football, Casillas represents the corrupt and inefficient consuls; Lopez is Julius Caesar who brings the change necessary to restore the nation to glory. However, the story of Caesar is a tragedy, many of Caesar's own senators stab him to death; this a cautionary tale, implying those who seem to support you, are just as willing to hurt you. I ask of you, Diego Lopez supporters, if you are so easily willing to leave Casillas in his time of need, will you do the same to Lopez?
And if Casillas is sold, what will this mean for our other leaders and legends such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos? How do you think they'll feel watching Casillas torn down from his throne and unceremoniously kicked into the mud? Don't you think Ramos will be worried the same will happen to him when he reaches 30 years of age? Don't you think this fear played some part in Ronaldo choosing to delay his contract extension? If an injury is all it takes to turn your back to someone born in the Real Madrid system, how easily will you leave Cristiano Ronaldo, our "otherworldly living legend", and Sergio Ramos, a player "who is a 100% Madridista"? Remember, just two seasons ago, these same superlatives were said of Casillas...
So this is it, my last stand for San Iker Casillas. From childhood prodigy and hometown hero, to supposedly first class snitch, this is his tale. I cannot rhyme in iambic pentameter, but I consider this my soliloquy of Casillas nonetheless. I used to wonder, how do fans let their heroes go so soon, now I don’t any longer. I could never imagine Casillas not retiring in the Santiago Bernabeu, now that day edges closer. This is my final stand, as the end nears I have chosen to protect Casillas as Boromir defended Merry and Pippin from the Uruk hai. Whether in vain or not, it does not matter. What matters is that I have chosen to stand by our captain, our legend and our leader, Iker Casillas. I ask of you do the same. Hala Madrid.