If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s now virtually stamped on the unfolding story of Real Madrid’s 2014-15 season. Goaltender and team captain Iker Casillas is very much on the hot seat.
The past year has seen Casillas go from undisputed leader of club and country to fighting for his domestic spot on the world’s most valuable sports franchise. After a less-than-inspiring performance with Los Blancos in 2013-14, Casillas further plunged himself into tenuousness with a haphazard showing at the World Cup as Spain were unceremoniously dispatched in the group stage.
Sensing the drop in Casillas’ game, Real went on a shopping spree before finally landing their signing of choice in Costa Rican star Keylor Navas. With Navas now in the fold, Carlo Ancelotti’s thorough examination of Casillas will get underway in earnest.
As things currently stand, Real have three goaltenders on their roster in Casillas, Navas and Diego Lopez, who had a solid enough season to earn the majority of starts for Ancelotti’s squad last year. Amid rumors of a possible transfer, Lopez was defiant in his desire to remain with Real and be considered their top goaltender.
Nevertheless, it will be difficult for Casillas and Lopez to outshine Navas, who has shown himself to be amongst the elite in terms of goaltenders. For Casillas, Navas represents the always-difficult transition all successful veterans face on the downturn of their careers. In other words, Real have put Casillas on notice.
Casillas’ performance at the recent International Champions Cup only added to the pressure on the 33-year-old netminder as Real were bumped after three games against Inter Milan, AS Roma and Manchester United. Most alarmingly, Casillas has often made poor on-field decisions in recent weeks, a trend that started late last year, continued to Brazil and again reared its ugly head at the ICC. With Navas looking over his shoulder, Casillas can ill afford many more slip-ups or Ancelotti will undoubtedly pull the plug.
Talent is never an issue at Real, and with players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale being joined by the likes of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez, expectations will be soaring at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu this summer. With all of that skill running up and down the field, the last thing Ancelotti will want is a shaky presence organizing the team’s defense.
And right now Casillas is shaky. He looks a step or two slow and his gaffes have led to some ugly goals in recent weeks. Perhaps most importantly, his confidence seems to be waning. No such problems exist with Navas and Ancelotti knows it.
It is therefore up to Casillas to assert himself for the only club he has ever known in his storied 15-year professional career. The alternative is for Casillas to fade into a bench role, something that would have been unthinkable even a year ago.