David de Gea called Iker Casillas “the best keeper in the world” in 2011. The respect was mutual. “He will soon be fighting for my place,” said Casillas at the time. “He’s a great keeper. We have to take care of him because he is the future. He will pension us all off.” Four years on and it seems the Real Madrid and Spain No.1 was more right than he knew.The reports of Real’s interest in bringing De Gea back to the Spanish capital simply won’t go away. Spanish journalist Josep Pedrerol even told TV channel La Sexta that a summer move had been agreed for the Manchester United goalkeeper whose contract has a little over a year left to run. “David de Gea is clear,” said Pedrerol. “He wants to be the Real Madrid goalkeeper.It’s just the latest issue that Casillas has had to deal with in what’s been a turbulent few years for the 33-year-old. The midweek Madrid derby against Atletico puts him back in the spotlight after being booed by the Bernabeu crowd on his previous Champions League appearance in the stadium against Schalke. It’s become a familiar phenomenon for the erstwhile ‘Saint Iker.
When Jose Mourinho first dropped Casillas in December 2012 it was initially seen as Jose Mourinho playing politics, but when Diego Lopez established himself for an extended period of time the water was muddied. “He had nothing against Iker,” Lopez told Canal+ recently. “I wasn’t his nanny boy. If my form dropped, so would I be.The experience could have spurred Casillas on but instead the doubts about his waning form have remained, mushrooming into a full-blown crisis of confidence. The player even admitted in a FIFA interviewed that he “cried, suffered, felt bad and had nights where I slept little, if at all” during his absence from the starting line-up.Carlo Ancelotti retained Lopez as his La Liga goalkeeper last season and, while Casillas did get the glory of La Decima, his performances were not wholly convincing. Indeed, he was fortunate to escape the blame in the Lisbon final when at fault for Diego Godin’s opener – a goal only cancelled out in the dying moments of normal time – and followed up with a dismal World Cup showing.
According to Opta, Casillas is the only goalkeeper remaining in this year’s Champions League who has made an error leading to a goal. The comparison with De Gea is not favourable. In fact, Casillas has made more errors leading to shots in the last two Champions League seasons (20 games in total) than De Gea has made in his last 89 Premier League appearances dating back to 2012.
It’s not all damning for Casillas. He actually boasts a superior save percentage to De Gea inside the box in those same competitions. “Casillas is at the moment and what he has perhaps always been: a very good reactive goalkeeper but not so good proactively,” Guillem Balague told Sky Sports earlier this season. It’s De Gea who has worked hard to turn himself into the more commanding keeper.
If that challenge is winnable, the threat of De Gea has the air of inevitability first forecast by Casillas all those years ago. Perhaps the template comes from the national team. Casillas’s misjudgement of a free-kick against Slovakia in October contributed to Spain’s first qualifying defeat in eight years and saw him dropped in favour of De Gea – a move backed by 86 per cent of voters in a Marca poll.