Iker Casillas's fall from grace highlights divisions at Real Madrid
When Iker Casillas triumphantly hoisted the Henri Delaunay Cup aloft in Kiev after Spain claimed a second consecutive European crown in 2012, he could scarcely have believed that within two years he would be roundly whistled by fans at Real Madrid`s Bernabeu stadium.
Madrid: When Iker Casillas triumphantly hoisted the Henri Delaunay Cup aloft in Kiev after Spain claimed a second consecutive European crown in 2012, he could scarcely have believed that within two years he would be roundly whistled by fans at Real Madrid`s Bernabeu stadium.
Born and bred in the Spanish capital and a product of the club`s academy, goalkeeper and captain Casillas has been singled out by some supporters following a stuttering start to La Liga.
They first vented their anger during Saturday`s 2-1 home defeat to city rivals Atletico Madrid after Casillas was beaten at a corner by a Tiago header and the whistling continued during Real`s thumping 5-1 victory over FC Basel in Tuesday`s Champions League Group B opener.
To be sure, there were plenty of fans in the giant arena who clearly still worship "Saint Iker" and immediately the whistles rang out they were generally drowned out with warm applause.
Casillas was also given an ovation when he produced one of the miraculous saves that earned him his moniker and in recent years underpinned Spain`s glorious six-year run at the top of the world game.
Nonetheless, he remains under a cloud and under pressure from Real`s new keeper Keylor Navas, who starred for Costa Rica at the World Cup finals in Brazil while Casillas had a torrid time as holders Spain failed to make it past the group stage.
Exactly why some Real fans have lost faith in Casillas - local media has been full of conspiracy theories - is difficult to fathom and piling blame on the keeper for the club`s poor start in La Liga is manifestly unfair.
But as well as the division among the supporters, there has been a steady stream of reports of dressing room splits and Casillas`s team mates and coach Carlo Ancelotti were less than proactive in coming to their captain`s defence.
It is hard not to conclude that all is not well behind the scenes at the world`s richest club by income and that the iron control president Florentino Perez exerts over decision-making may be counterproductive.
"I am not going to enter into debates, it would be stupid," Real`s Spain centre back Sergio Ramos told reporters when quizzed about the whistling after the Basel game.
"The institution comes before all else and we have to focus on our own work," he added.
"Iker lives with it. He knows that he can`t please everyone. He is not a robot and it`s normal that he is affected."
Perez has not made any public comment on the situation and it has long been reported that his relationship with Casillas is uneasy at best.
The construction magnate did visit the dressing room after the Basel game to present Casillas with a replica of the fountain in central Madrid where fans celebrate the club`s titles to mark his decade and a half in the first team.
So how could a player who has spent his entire professional career with Real and helped win a host of trophies lose his untarnished hero status in so little time?
The beginning of his fall from grace can be traced back to a fractured hand he suffered when Real defender Alvaro Arbeloa accidentally kicked him during a King`s Cup game at Valencia in January 2013.
Then-coach Jose Mourinho brought in Diego Lopez as what most assumed would be a temporary replacement but Casillas failed to win back his starting spot and it quickly became clear that the relationship between the captain and the manager had broken down.
After Mourinho left in disgrace and returned to Chelsea at the end of the 2012-13 season, most expected Casillas to be restored to undisputed number one under Carlo Ancelotti but the Italian used an awkward rotation policy last term with Lopez playing in La Liga and Casillas in the Champions League.
Real came close to losing the final of Europe`s elite club competition after a Casillas error gifted Atletico a first-half goal but Ramos saved him with a 93rd-minute equaliser before Real romped to a 4-1 victory in extra time.
Casillas appears to be Ancelotti`s first choice in both La Liga and the Champions League this season, at least for the time being, but has become a target for fans who are clearly unhappy with his form and perhaps blame him, at least in part, for the downfall of Mourinho.
Christian Panucci, who had a three-year stint playing with Casillas at Real in the late 1990s, defended his former team mate and noted that it was not the first time the home fans at the Bernabeu had criticised one of their own.
WHISTLES INTO APPLAUSE
Club legends including Alfredo Di Stefano and Zinedine Zidane were targeted when results were not deemed satisfactory, while even current top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo has felt the wrath of supporters on occasions.
"The Bernabeu has not changed, it`s always the same," former Italy defender Panucci said in an interview with Spanish sports daily As published on Tuesday.
"Sometimes it is divided," added the 41-year-old, now an assistant coach to Fabio Capello with the Russian national team.
"There are times when the fans whistle you and you have to accept it.
"I was surprised, for me the (Atletico) goal is not Iker`s fault. He is a lad with the personality to react and turn them (the whistles) into applause."
As is so often the case in soccer, a good run of results will likely put an end to the protests.
If the reverse happens and fans persist in targeting Casillas, he may seriously consider bringing an end to his time at the club he has represented since the age of 10.