End is near for Casillas as Real fans turn on hero

Saturday began with the Spanish press full of tributes to Real Madrid club captain Iker Casillas on completing 15 years as a first-team player at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu — with over 700 games for the club, and an enviable trophy haul including three Champions Leagues, five La Liga titles and two Copas del Rey.

End is near for Casillas as Real fans turn on hero

Saturday ended with Casillas being questioned on Canal Plus TV station about the loud whistles which accompanied his almost every touch of the ball during his side’s painful 2-1 home defeat to city rivals Atletico Madrid.

“The fans’ views are to be respected,” Casillas said. “If they feel the need to whistle, then we need to accept this. They’re entitled to complain and my way of responding is the only way I know — playing football.”

The whistles began on 10 minutes, when Atletico went ahead as Tiago simply headed in a Koke corner at the near post. The upset home crowd appeared to know that seven of the last 15 goals conceded by their side in La Liga have been from set pieces. And they knew who to blame.

“I understand we are suffering as we’re conceding goals from dead balls and as goalkeeper, I accept responsibility,” Casillas said. “I’ll take my portion of the blame. We as a team, however, need to find answers as the problems are starting to accumulate.”

That analysis was broadly shared by Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, who told his post-game press conference that the goal had been a systems failure, not an individual mistake. “When you concede a goal at the near post, the last person responsible is the keeper,” Ancelotti said. “In yesterday’s training session we did everything we could to work on covering the near post. We need to work more on it.”

Ancelotti claimed not to have noticed the whistles from the fans, but nobody was buying that. This was far from the first time that Casillas has been targeted at the Bernabeu. The problems stem from a long-term battle of wills with former boss Jose Mourinho, and lead to the serious loss of confidence on his part which brought howlers in both last season’s Champions League final and the summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

Dyed in the wool Blancos-supporting pundit Antonio Romero summed up the situation after the game.

“Iker Casillas has been the best goalkeeper in the world, but I say this sincerely, he has to leave Real Madrid,” Romero said on Cadena Ser radio. “I say that with all the sorrow in the world. This is a situation that will become unsustainable. There was a debate in other weeks, or other seasons, among ‘Mourinho supporters’ or the ultras or whoever. But today some inside the Bernabeu tried to gingerly applaud Casillas, and you must say the whistlers were the majority. In a game in which Casillas had no direct responsibility for the result, most of the Bernabeu whistling him is a long-term problem for the season. I think Iker Casillas’ days are numbered at Real Madrid.”

The problem for everyone is that the transfer window has just shut and does not open again until January. Madrid president Florentino Perez thought he had solved his goalkeeper issue by paying Diego Lopez to leave for Milan last summer, and signing Costa Rican World Cup hero Keylor Navas for €10m. Saturday’s whistles say otherwise.

Navas has yet to make his competitive debut for Madrid, but predictable reports on Sunday suggested Ancelotti would start him in Tuesday’s Champions League group opener at home to Basle. That would probably be welcomed now by a majority of Madrid fans, and realistically signal the end for Casillas at the Bernabeu. Ancelotti might stick with him a while more and hope for an unlikely upturn in form. But as Romero says, it’s a sad situation, but ‘San Iker’ has long lost his halo.

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