Iker Casillas turns season around at Madrid
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Iker Casillas is on the verge of turning one of the most trying seasons of his Real Madrid career into one of the most successful.
The Madrid goalkeeper lost his starting position under former coach Jose Mourinho last season, and the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti changed little with the Italian coach preferring Diego Lopez in league play.
But Casillas was handed Champions League and Copa del Rey duties, and he captained Madrid to the domestic cup title.
A victory on Saturday in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid would secure a double, something the 33-year-old Casillas has never managed in 14 seasons at the club.
“It’s been a different Champions League campaign, for sure,” said Casillas, who set a Spanish record of 952 minutes without conceding a goal in any competition this season. “It hasn’t been easy having to play games with such a pause between.”
Casillas has been a Madrid mainstay since 2000, winning 16 trophies along the way. He is also captain of Spain’s national team, and will head to Brazil looking for a fourth major title.
At Madrid, Casillas is the only player remaining from the team that won the Champions League in 2000 and 2002.
“Twelve years ago, I had a different attitude, that of a young kid. I was only 20. Twelve years later the situation now is different from then,” said Casillas, who recently became a father for the first time. “A lot of time has passed, a lot of games.”
With Champions League games only every few weeks and no cup matches until December, Casillas endured a frustrating start to the season, including speculation about his future with the club and his starting position on the national team.
Ancelotti eventually soothed his doubts.
“Carlo brings his experience and his own way of working. He’s more about working as team, being a group, being responsible for each other,” said Casillas, who insisted that was not a parting shot at Mourinho, who led the club to three straight Champions League semifinals after seven straight seasons of early exits. “The previous years helped us get a taste of playing finals, which is what we needed.”
Ultimately, Casillas has shown great character in the face of such adversity and does not sound like he is ready to leave.
“I hope I have a lot of games left to play,” said Casillas, who has never lost a match against Atletico. “I want to be here competing next season and hopefully to fight for the Champions League.”
Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP