El Centrocampista

Number One – The extraordinary career of Iker Casillas

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe

The toughest position to occupy on a football pitch has been debated for decades and will continually be debated for years to come; it is of course a matter of opinion. However, it is difficult to look much further than those who offer the last line of defence.

Goalkeepers are consistently relied on  to bail out defensive errors, and it is the one position where personal error can directly affect the result. Put simply – goalkeepers can go from hero to zero in the space of just a few short seconds.

Nonetheless, the position also has its benefits. Consistency can bring with it an almost guaranteed starting spot – and once a player has hold of his teams number one jersey, it can be very hard to prise it off him. Real Madrid and Spain stopper Iker Casillas is a man in point.

The 31-year-old has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world for over a decade – ever since he sprung onto the scene with his youthful exuberance at the Bernabeu. Making his debut in the 1999-2000 season would have surely been a daunting moment at a club decorated in history, even more so considering he became the youngest ever goalkeeper to win the Champions League aged just 19 in a 3-0 victory over Valencia.

His early career was spent impressing for Real Madrid Castilla before he quickly emerged as a future favourite for Los Blancos – currently walking out every game as captain of club and country.

Having already become the most capped goalkeeper of all time in the UEFA Champions League and the most capped player for his country, Casillas’s unrivalled consistency has also led him to become part an elite group of players to have won every possible honour at both club and national level.

As if these achievements were not enough, Casillas has thwarted the national progress of other goalkeepers hailing from Spain. Both Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes have trained in the background as they have had the misfortune of hitting form at the same time as Iker Casillas, whose form has arguably lasted over a decade.

It has been suggested Reina or Valdes would be first team keepers were they of any other nationality, thus highlighting the extent of the talent available to the world champions in terms of choosing a stopper.

Compliments for Casillas have flooded in over the years, but some of the most poignant would arguably be the words of praise from legendary Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff who lifted the World Cup in 1982. The former Italian captain described Casillas’ attributes as thus: “The strikers will face him thinking about what to do. His figure is so large and has grown over time. Rivals would always feel he commands respect and even fear. In one on one he is the best. I always want to have Iker on my team as a goalkeeper.”

Zoff went on to mention that for him today “Iker is number one”.  Big words from a bigger man after Casillas became only the third Goalkeeper in history to lift the World Cup taking the award for the Golden Glove and a place in the All- Star FIFA World Cup 2010 team.

As for the future, many have tipped David De Gea to take the throne after Casillas is done with it, in fact De Gea he described his captain as “the benchmark in goal keeping from whom I look to learn from. Both in respect of what he does in goal and beyond. For me he is the best and I would always be his student.”

One of a kind? Perhaps, but Iker Casillas has dominated the goalkeeping position both at Real Madrid, the current La Liga Champions, and at national level for Spain, who remain European and World Cup champions.

At the age of 31, retirement would not yet be entertained as a thought. The formidable shadow he casts shows little sign of shrinking just yet and with footballing philosophy dictating that teams should play out from defence, one cannot help but think that for Real Madrid, building from the back must be easy with Iker Casillas in goal.

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