Iker Casillas: the reserved prince of diplomacy

Iker Casillas: the reserved prince of diplomacy

The art of diplomacy, it is said, is to recognise the beliefs, opinions and feelings of other people and to balance them accordingly with those of their opponents – breeding it itself an air of open communication based on mutual respect and rational understanding.

Politics and football – polar opposites in isolation – share common characteristics and are, for better or worse, inextricably linked. Real Madrid Club de Fútbol come closest to encapsulating this divide between institution and dogma.

Within politics, a diplomat compromises his or her neutrality when they share stakes between the opposing sides of a debate or miscommunication. In normal circumstances they are an outsider – a person who has no such stakes in the settlement and who can cast an objective and unbiased view on discussions to meet an agreeable middle-ground.

Iker Casillas was thrust into this mould of peacekeeper from within inadvertently when he was made captain of the Spanish national team following the exclusion of Raúl by manager Luis Aragonés prior to Euro 2008, and later captain of Madrid in the summer of 2010 – once again following the departure of the masterful Rául.

This coincided with the introduction of José Mourinho as manager following the return of Florentino Pérez as president of the club a year previous whereby generation Galácticos 2.0 would come into fruition over the coming years.

Within the parameters of the armband, Casillas would adopt the role of statesman over the kingdom of Madrid. A representative of the club’s historic traditions of señorío that had adorned its prestigious past, the Bernabéu would act as his castle, and Pérez his master.

As the golden-boy prince to be, Casillas would have to fight his battles of peace on two fronts, however – firstly at home in Madrid between the fragments of the ensuing schism of players, supporters and Pérez. While abroad he would engage in a national debacle between the inner-workings of Spain’s national team – Camp Barça versus Camp Madrid, Catalans against Spanish.

Casillas has always been a people pleaser. Fans, media and players alike warm to his modesty and humble nature. In a Madrid characterised by big-money signings and a yearly summer blockbuster superstar to set pulses racing in expectation, Casillas was always a warm sea of calm and reservation amid chaos.

From the age of nine he was a thoroughbred Madridista, and has said that since the day he first adorned the club’s colours that his life’s dream was met. It is the deluded and narrative box-ticking of Madrid that would come of the Mourinho vs. Guardiola eras, insofar as Madrid were subjected to play the role of “evil superclub” to Barcelona’s “purist football through youth” in recent years that Casillas was viewed as an outsider to Madrid’s perceived exterior.

During those El Clásico showdowns it would not be an uncommon site to see Casillas, Xavi and Carles Puyol come together in order to self-discipline their misbehaving players. Casillas’s endeavours towards peace, therefore involving friendly communication with Barcelona rivals such as Puyol and Xavi, on such occasions would lead to his unfortunate demise and isolation at Madrid at the hands of Mourinho.

It is the bitterly sad ending to Casillas’s 16 seasons in Madrid that would cut through his role as the beating heart of Madrid.

Madrid have carried their tradition of senario since the days of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás. It defines the type of character and personality that a player should wear as a representative of the club.

When we think of senario we think of respect, of achievement, of modesty, dignity and pride. This tradition was lost during the tenure of Mourinho, with the Portuguese’s mentality of win at all costs taking no time to consider alien concepts of restrained modesty – this mind-set unduly epitomised in his distasteful poking of Tito Vilanova’s eye in August 2011.

Casillas was cast aside by Mourinho viciously for two reasons: firstly, for his supposed leaking of information to the Spanish press during the 2011-12 season, and secondly for engaging in peace talks with the leading Spaniards of Barcelona in order to reach an accord within Vincente del Bosque’s national side.

However, the conviction that Madridistas come together in celebrating is that Casillas and señorío are one and the same. Modest but proud in achievement. Respectful but eternally ambitious. This code is fittingly summarised on the foundation stone laid at Madrid’s training complex Valdebebas, opened in 2005: “The foundations of this city are as firm as the convictions of all who love Real Madrid. An institution that respects its past, learns from its present and is firmly committed to its future.”

One looks back at photographs of a young Casillas draped in a baggy green goalkeeper jersey during the 2002 UEFA Champions League final and sees the face of a loyal prince-like statesman to be. Quiet and shy but deadly spoken in the words of his actions, the saves he pulled and the clearances made.

It was to be Casillas’s moral mentality that would lead to his untimely alienation from within his club, however. Mourinho – an outsider brought in to derail the achievements of Pep Guardiola – ultimately showed Perez’s unflappable desire for success that would lay to waste even the club’s longest serving and most loyal practitioner.

Casillas did earn his silver wings through lifting the 2014 UEFA Champions League as captain of his boyhood club in a sensational final, but the image is deluded and masked in bitterness. The reality is, at the time, Casillas’s place at Madrid was no longer secure and relations from within simply beyond repair.

Casillas had undergone two years of underwhelming personal performances – his confidence in pieces and his starting position untenable. The FIFPro World XI goalkeeper for five consecutive years between 2008 and 2012 was now blundering an almost unrecognisable figure, especially when he gifted Diego Godín a sloppy goal to hand Atlético Madrid the lead in the 2014 final – he more so than anyone rejoiced beyond exclamation at Sergio Ramos’s 93rd minute equaliser.

During his time in Madrid, Mourinho despised fleeting loyalty to his aims. He subsequently also despised the friendship of his captain to Barcelona’s Xavi. The two would ultimately have to breach peace accords between the two divided factions of Spain’s national side between Madridistas and Culés – with Casillas’s own father later describing their effort to mend relations prior to the European Championships in 2012.

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“If it weren’t for Xavi, Casillas and del Bosque, Spain would not have come this far,” he said speaking in 2012. “The Clásicos led to difficult moments. Relationships between players who used to be friends were about to go sour.

“There were issues with [Alvaro] Arbeloa,