Iker Casillas can’t catch a break at Real Madrid for luck nor money at the moment, and every time he steps onto the field the weight of expectation appears to grow like an unwanted burden around his neck.
It’s hard to recall a hero-to-zero scenario with such a quick turnaround in recent times, save perhaps for Fernando Torres’s plummet from grace. Yet Casillas’s woes differ from his, and in some ways it can be claimed that his decline is arguably worse.
In less than a season and a half he’s seen his stock fall from being amongst the best goalkeepers in the world to a player who is harangued by his own fans and the subject of mass criticism. Even the Madrid faithful, whom Casillas has served emphatically for almost 15 years, appear to have resigned themselves to the opinion that their once-great stopper is now irreparably damaged goods.
The sale of Diego Lopez this summer seems to have offered the Spain captain something of a reprieve from his unwanted sabbatical from playing in La Liga, and now it’s new import Keylor Navas who finds himself warming the bench. However the days when Casillas was a certified ‘Galactico’ at Los Blancos, and deemed a virtually unsellable asset to boot, are well and truly over. He may be current No.1, but it’s difficult to find another first-choice ‘keeper in Europe who has as little backing as he does.
A potential exit
It’s no wonder then that the plethora of scepticism concerning his Madrid future have paved the way for rumours that he is being lined up for a January exit from the only club he has ever known. Reports on the continent suggest that Arsenal are set to return to a venture they’ve long been linked with an attempt to lure Casillas to the Premier League, with Arsene Wenger still needing to bolster his squad with more high-profile signings.
As recently as two years ago such a transfer would have been scoffed at by the majority of audiences, and yet now it’s not only a switch that could fairly easily be made possible, but one which deserves to be made for the benefit of all parties involved.
First and the foremost the idea of Casillas lending his wealth of experience and knowledge to Wenger’s dressing room is one which the Frenchman would be foolish not to entertain. The current Gunners’ squad has a healthy balance of young vigour and ageing pedigree but they find themselves crumbling far too often on the biggest stages and, when the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea are drawn against them, it’s usually Wenger’s charges who come in second-placed.
Then of course there’s the fact that Arsenal could certainly do with a ‘keeper of Casillas ability. The naysayers and doubters have been out in force concerning his infamous dip in form - which few can argue against - and yet I still find myself harbouring hopes that given the chance to regain his lost confidence the 33-year-old can restore his glittering reputation before the day he hangs up his boots for good.
Wojciech Szczesny, Wenger’s current first-choice, also has plenty of critics ready to tell anyone who will listen that he’s simply not good enough for the elite platform he's on and, though he managed to claw his way back from the abyss when Lukas Fabianski was instated ahead of him for a period last year, he has some way to go before he ranks amongst the best stoppers around.
The Golden Glove award he shared with Petr Cech for his endeavours last campaign was a definite high point in his career, but he needs proper competition to ensure his development continues at a suitable rate. The recently imported David Ospina is a decent backup, but he can’t promise such a challenge.
As for Casillas a move to Arsenal ticks all the boxes if he wants to once again be considered in the world-class bracket of player. The more likely scenario is that he will seek to once more earn the affections of the Madrid faithful, and finish his career as a fabled ‘one-club man’. Yet even he, with all his ties to the team which has nurtured him since his first appearance way back in 1999, won’t be able to abide the persistently scathing reviews for too much longer.
Lastly there’s Madrid, who will undoubtedly take a stance backing his departure so long as he doesn’t vehemently fight against it. With Casillas’s legacy ensuring that the club are never going to force him out, as they so often do when a player is no longer welcome, he’ll be afforded a spot if he wants it, but what capacity it’s in remains anyone’s guess.
It will break more than one heart if Casillas does indeed make a January switch to north London, but with his long-term future as uncertain as it has ever been, and both Madrid and Arsenal set to benefit if he makes the aforementioned switch, such an outcome might just be the best on the table.