Iker Casillas has left the building.
The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, that is.
It was one of the longest drawn-out goodbyes/breakups in recent football history. And boy, was it messy. Predictably, a sizeable amount of Real Madrid fans are still on meltdown mode.
I am not a Real Madrid supporter. I do, however, admire and dare I say it, love some of their past and current players. They are a very interesting team to watch, and they are probably the biggest Reality Show in Football (N.B. There also have been comparisons made with Game of Thrones, and really, they are not far wrong).
I have expected Iker’s departure for months now; the only question was to which club he will end up in. The Arsenal rumours were there for a long time, until they managed to snag Petr Cech from Chelsea which effectively put them out of the running. Roma, Fenerbache and a few other clubs were tossed around, but none of those apparently made the grade. Then came Porto.
It’s almost a strange joke by destiny; Iker ending up with the Portuguese club that is so strongly linked with Jose Mourinho—the Special One, a.k.a that Manager he famously fell out with during his tenure at Real Madrid (and possibly, that became the tipping point of everything). Not quite a few scratched their heads at this. Porto? The Portuguese League? Iker Casillas is a World Cup/2x European Champion for Spain and has had more than his fair share of titles and cups with Real Madrid. So how come no bigger club has taken an interest in him?
How did it all come to this?
One side of it is, Iker—nay, San Iker—wants us to believe that he has been unceremoniously pushed out from the beloved club he has dutifully served for 25 years. He was cheated financially, bullied, and pressured from all sides. The president and the board has allegedly mounted a multi-season smear campaign against him and despite his repeated wishes to stay on and fight for a place in the starting lineup, he was simply not wanted anymore. The now-infamous interview of his parents in El Mundo revealed juicy details that make up wet dreams of British tabloids.
(Sidebar: What bothered me most about that El Mundo interview was the bit where it was revealed that Iker has been estranged from his family for years now due to monetary/personal reasons. How come this hasn’t been picked up by the press sooner? Or perhaps I just missed it somehow?)
Conversely, the club wants us to believe that the Saint the public adores is not really a Saint but just a regular, even greedy footballer that got too big for his boots and tried to take on a club that has nurtured him for most of his career. The nerve! He was good, became a great and then throughout time, somehow turned …toxic. He leaked secrets, pushed out a manager and fellow players, and slowly became a symbol of division.
There are three sides to this story: Iker’s, the Club’s and the Truth. Sadly, it seems we will never truly know the real score.
To quote Cersei Lannister-Baratheon, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Perhaps Iker should have demanded Trial by Combat instead, because he sure got mercilessly battered and lost the Public Trial that ensued.
Tears were unabashedly shed by Iker as he read his farewell statement—alone, and the event was simply attended by photographers and journalists. Not the ideal sendoff befitting a player of his caliber. Predictably, backlash ensued not just from the RM fans but from football fans in general, and so a “proper” farewell was arranged by having him stand in the middle of the Bernabeu pitch with the trophies he has won and letting fans inside the stadium for him to say adios to. Let us not forget the mini testimonial, and then photo calls with the President, holding his “Legacy Shirt” and being forced to put on smiles as though he means them.
It was a ridiculous and insulting charade and we all know it.
Perhaps Iker can take comfort from the fact that this was not the first time this has happened to a football player, and this will certainly not be the last.
Screw or be screwed. Sad, but this sums up the business of Football in this age.
Can time really heal all wounds? We shall see.
At the back of my mind, I think there will come a time when Iker will return to the Bernabeu; he will don the club shirt yet again and maybe play in one of the Corazon Charity Matches with his former colleagues. He will be glad to be back and put the ghosts of the past behind him, but for now, he needs to live with the choices he has made and start over.
Meanwhile, the fans can busy themselves expressing all their hatred and obscenities at Perez, but in the end, they will still buy their match tickets and the replica shirts of the new players. They will fill the stadium and resume singing the club songs. They will make new legends of fresh, unsuspecting players. They will perhaps remember Iker in passing and think, “He was good, and he was one of us.”
And life in the Santiago Bernabeu will go on.