Sunday 25 February 2018

Halo slips as Saint Iker becomes a Real villain

Iker Caillas seems to have ended love-affair with Real Madrid supporters
Iker Caillas seems to have ended love-affair with Real Madrid supporters

Ian Hawkey

the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium witnessed an outstanding goalkeeping performance on Saturday, one to shape the outcome of the Spanish League. Madridistas know that storyline.

Three, maybe four, of Madrid's most recent Liga titles were won thanks to a man wearing gloves and a halo. Saturday was different, however. The feted 'keeper in Madrid was Valencia's Diego Alves.

At the other end, the home captain suffered a hostility that has become habitual in the three-year transformation of 'Saint' Iker Casillas into pantomime villain for a section of Madrid's regular audience.

Unusually, the latest episode of jeering seemed to break something in the 33-year-old.

Interpreting Casillas' mood - joyous, angry, or glum - is a taxing task. He says little and his gestures are understated.

But most Spanish broadcasters now have lip-readers in senior positions on their staffs and zoom lenses that can analyse the molecular structure of a pixel.

Cuatro television offered evidence that Casillas reacted with weary, explicit contempt towards those who had repeatedly whistled his touches of the ball.

A dismissive wave of his arm in their direction, and a phrase, more muttered than screamed, and most politely translated as 'Up Yours'.

That was early in an evening when Madrid recovered from two goals down to draw with Valencia, leaving the gap Barcelona have over them at four points, with two matches left.


In a helter-skelter game, the noises of disapproval focused on the captain, rather than Cristiano Ronaldo, whose penalty was saved by the excellent Alves, or Gareth Bale, who struck the crossbar.

It will be scant consolation to Casillas, but he is unlikely to have to endure boos louder than the applause he used to be guaranteed at the Bernabeu for more than another 180 minutes.

Madrid's remaining home Liga match, in a fortnight, may not draw an animated audience at all, if Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid next weekend to secure the championship.

Which leaves just the Champions League semi-final second leg against Juventus on Wednesday.

That will begin with a captains' greetings between the top two goalkeepers of the 21st century, a pair of World Cup winners.

Gianluigi Buffon and Casillas have a combined age of 70, and stand as examples not only of long-term standard-setting but of a capacity to bounce back.

A little over two years ago, Buffon, then 35, had time brutally called on his career by Franz Beckenbauer.

Bayern Munich's honorary president had just watched Bayern eliminate Juventus from the Champions League, and took the Italian goalkeeper's sluggish movement, reacting to a long-range shot from David Alaba, as a sign of terminal decline.

"He looks like he's retired already," boomed Beckenbauer.

The remark was widely reported, and noted. Lip-readers should ready themselves, if Juve progress to the Champions League final in Berlin, for the moment Buffon spots Beckenbauer at the post-match formalities.

Buffon has just won his fourth successive scudetto with Juve, who he joined in 2001, and his third since the Beckenbauer sentencing.

He commands the respect of Juve supporters, having stuck with the club when they were relegated to Serie B as punishment for Juve executives' attempts to manipulate match-officials, and that loyalty extended his line of credit with fans.

Casillas has never left Madrid, either. He also experienced a relegation, although it was of the personal kind.

Eighteen months after he had captained Spain to the World Cup, less than half a season after skippering Madrid to the league title, he was dropped by the then club coach Jose Mourinho, with whom, Casillas acknowledged, he "did not have the best relationship".

The comeback from the Mourinho snub has not been entirely convincing.

Carlo Ancelotti, picking up the post-Mourinho pieces in 2013, promoted Casillas to first choice only for European and domestic cup matches last season.


A year later, Ancelotti installed him as the No 1 across the major competitions, despite Madrid's signing Costa Rican Keylor Navas, a star of the Brazil World Cup.

Casillas lifted the European Cup last May. But coupled with the picture of his collecting yet another major prize is the memory, from the final, of his klutzy dash from his goal-line, in the lead up to the Atletico Madrid goal.

The Real Madrid goalkeeper went to the 2014 World Cup as Spain's No 1 - as he has been for 13 years.

The national team's plunge from holders to hapless was nowhere more vividly captured than in the pictures of 'Saint Iker' scrabbling around, on hands and knees as Arjen Robben danced around him to score the fifth of the seven goals Spain let in in their opening two matches.

Real Madrid's interest in recruiting David de Gea from Manchester United is barely disguised, while Navas is encouraged by Real to think he will have a more active future there.

So Wednesday has a swansong feel for the fallen Saint Iker, a night when his embrace with Buffon might look more elegiac than others they have shared.

And lip-readers should be alert, when the captains await the toss of the coin, in case the Madrid captain whispers: "Gigi, you go up that end. I've had it with the b******* in row C." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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