Iker Casillas: LaLiga Legend Hangs Up His Gloves

MADRID, ESPANA - 05 DE FEBRERO 2014:, en el partido que enfrenta al R.Madrid vs AT.Madrid, perteneciente al partido de ida, de la semifinal de la Copa del Rey 2013/14 , Estadio Santiago Bernabeu (Photo:SergioLopez/Cordonpress)

The iconic goalkeeper is retiring at the age of 39, just over a year after suffering a heart attack during a training session.

A legend of Spanish football has retired, with Iker Casillas officially announcing on Tuesday that he is hanging up his gloves at the age of 39.

The legendary goalkeeper does so after winning 24 titles across his illustrious career, including the three major trophies he lifted as Spain captain between 2008 and 2012.

Casillas has been the author of several legendary moments in the histories of Real Madrid, Porto and the Spanish national team.

It all started on 12 September 1999, when injuries to Real Madrid’s top two goalkeepers Bodo Illgner and Albano Bizzarri saw an 18-year-old Casillas start in goal for Los Blancos away at Athletic Club, at the historic setting of San Mamés in Bilbao.  

From there, he didn’t look back. Casillas became the starting goalkeeper at Real Madrid and had won two Champions League titles by the age of 21.

In the second of those two European triumphs, he was especially key as Real Madrid defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in Glasgow to ensure the 2001/02 Champions League confetti was white.

Everyone remembers Zinedine Zidane’s thumping volley from that night, but the most decisive player in the second half was Casillas who leapt towards save after save. 

Over the following decade, there was no denying that Casillas was one of the very best goalkeepers in world football, if not the best. The man from Móstoles, just outside Madrid, won title after title for Real Madrid and Spain, even lifting several trophies himself after being named captain of his country in 2008 and captain of his club in 2010. 

With Real Madrid, he won a total of five LaLiga Santander titles – in 2000/01, 2002/03, 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2011/12. In addition, Casillas was present for two Copa del Rey successes, four Spanish Super Cup wins, three Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and one Club World Cup. 

With his country, he was the captain for the three-in-a-row era when La Roja won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. For his performances with his country, the nickname of San Iker – Saint Iker, in English – really stuck.

Casillas was particularly decisive during Spain’s one and only World Cup success, saving a penalty against Paraguay at a crucial moment of the quarter-finals and then sticking a foot out to spectacularly divert an Arjen Robben shot in the final with the teams still at 0-0. 

For these kinds of stellar performances, Casillas won several individual accolades as well. He was named to the UEFA Team of the season six times in a row (2007-12) and he also won the prestigious Zamora Award for his performances in LaLiga as Real Madrid won the title in 2007/08.

In total, he won 334 matches during his LaLiga career, second-most of all time after only Lionel Messi.

Even as he remained an influential captain, Casillas played fewer minutes in 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15. Eventually, it was time for the Real Madrid legend to move on from the club whose academy he’d joined aged nine. He didn’t go far, staying on the Iberian Peninsula by joining Porto in the Portuguese league. 

There, at the Estádio do Dragão, Casillas added to his legacy and won another league title in 2017/18, as well as setting further individual records. One of those is the record for the most clean sheets in Champions League history, with Casillas boasting 59 across all his years in the continental competition.

Sadly, Casillas’ career was cut short by circumstances out of his control. On May 1st 2019, Casillas suffered a heart attack at Porto training. While he was able to recover well, he wasn’t able to return to action and never has been given the all-clear for a comeback.

That’s why, shortly after turning 39, this great is saying goodbye to the beautiful game.

Over two decades, he certainly left his mark in the world, European and Spanish football, especially in LaLiga as he was even named the first-ever LaLiga Icon in 2019.

At Real Madrid, he has also left a special legacy and has consistently been linked with a return to the club in a directorial role. 

On the day of his retirement announcement, Real Madrid released an emotional statement honouring this player’s special career

“Today one of the most important footballers in our 118 years of history calls it a day as a professional player, a player we love and admire, a goalkeeper who has made the Real Madrid legacy bigger with his work and exemplary behaviour both on and off the pitch,” the statement started.

“Iker Casillas belongs at the heart of Real Madrid and will do so forever,” it added.