The sight of legendary Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas sobbing into a press-conference microphone as he bid farewell after 25 years with Real Madrid shouldn’t merely sadden Real fans nostalgic for past glories. It should send them charging to the gates of the Bernabeu, torches blazing and pitchforks aloft.
Casillas, who is on his way to Porto, is the highest-profile victim of the internecine political feuding that has consumed Real since megalomaniacal businessman Florentino Perez returned as president in 2009. In a recent tell-all interview with El Mundo, Casillas’ parents claimed that Perez had long hoped to replace Casillas, whom he allegedly considers too “short” to play in goal, with a signing of his own. “It’s been an attempt to hunt him and destroy him,” Casillas’ father said.
Perez has faced widespread criticism for his management of Casillas’ final weeks at Real. In May, after Real failed to win a single major trophy for the second time in three seasons, Casillas emphatically declared, “I can’t conceive of myself at any other club next season.” Nevertheless, Perez proceeded to conduct a very public flirtation with Manchester United keeper David de Gea, who grew up in Madrid and reportedly “dreams“ of playing at the Bernabeu. Sunday’s press conference was a half-hearted affair noticeably bereft of the fanfare that usually accompanies the departure of a club legend.
Given Casillas’ poor form, the decision to sell him seems perfectly defensible. But the years of rancor – the accusations and counter-accusations, the rumors of dressing-room unrest, the personality clashes – that precipitated his on-field decline raise uncomfortable questions about Perez’s player management.