Should Iker Casillas step aside at Real Madrid?

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Iker Casillas. Probably the first name that would come into your head if you were asked to name a player at Real Madrid who is the embodiment of the spirit and values at the club.

Now 33 years of age Spain's number one has been with the club since the age of nine, learning his craft in Madrid's "La Fabrica" academy. He's also one of only a few players to have represented the club at every level.

A glittering career at both club and international level has far too many high points to list and with the possible recent exception of Manuel Neuer, Casillas has been the premier exponent of the goalkeeping art in world football over the last few years.

However, time waits for no man and the cracks have begun to appear. Whisper it it time for Casillas to hang up the gloves, or at the very least step aside to allow Keylor Navas to stake a claim for permanent residency in the first team?

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Dropped by Mourinho

The situation that presents itself would've been inconceivable a couple of years ago, but it would appear that Jose Mourinho's tenure as manager at the Santiago Bernabeu has left a lasting legacy - and not in the way that you would expect.

If you recall, back in December 2012, Casillas was dropped without warning for the game against Malaga, Antonio Adan preferred by Mourinho in what he referred to at the time as a "technical decision" - per Nicklas Vinde of

Mourinho's reasoning fooled no one and it was fairly obvious that all was not well behind the scenes. During the following fixture against Real Sociedad, Adan was red carded after five minutes forcing Mourinho into using Casillas.

Huge cheers that greeted every touch of the ball from Casillas and a chorus of boos that met the Portuguese each time he exited the bench told it's own story.

Lopez stakes a claim

In yet another twist, Casillas broke his hand in the Copa del Rey tie against Valencia, forcing Madrid into the transfer market where they secured Diego Lopez before the end of January 2013.

Another product of the club's academy, Lopez was repatriated from Sevilla and responded with a string of top-class performances.

Even when Casillas was fit again, Mourinho was, at that point, well within his rights to keep the 6'6" stopper in-situ. Against a backdrop of more internal wrangling and a threat by Casillas and Sergio Ramos to leave the club in the summer of 2013 if Mourinho was still in charge, Florentino Perez called a press conference to announce a mutual parting of the ways.

Yet if Casillas thought his problems had been solved, he was sorely mistaken. New incumbent Carlo Ancelotti appeared to agree with his predecessor and kept Lopez between the sticks for all La Liga games, only utilising Casillas for cup games.

Ultimately, the club enjoyed a very successful season in 2013/14, landing the Copa del Rey and, finally, "La Decima" - the much sought-after 10th European Cup for a team that has dominated the competition since it's inception.

Mistakes aplenty

It shouldn't be forgotten that it was Casillas' basic error in that final that allowed Atletico Madrid to take the lead and come oh-so-close to landing the trophy for the first time in their history.

Look back through the season and the frequency of mistakes from San Iker suggested that his concentration levels were not at the level required for this grand old institution.

A horrific World Cup for Spain only served to highlight the lack of confidence that continues to burden him. Yet despite bringing in Navas, an agile and athletic keeper in Casillas' own image, Ancelotti made the strange and to this point unexplained decision to reinstate the latter.

It's a situation that can't have any mileage or longevity. How can you have a scenario whereby a goalkeeper coming off of the back of a great La Liga season and a magnificent World Cup is then happy to be signed up just as a reserve?

Political issue

The real issue here remains a political one. Florentino Perez and Carlo Ancelotti don't want to be drawn into a situation whereby they are noted as being the authors in the exit of a player who still commands blind affection on the terraces.

The boy from Mostoles and Madrid's greatest-ever goalkeeper who pre-dates the first Galactico era of Figo, Ronaldo, Zidane and Beckham.

Sometimes it's best to quit whilst still at the top of your game and perhaps Casillas can find it within himself to gracefully step aside. After all, no one wants to see him reduced to a laughing stock.

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