Has there ever been a stranger send-off for a club legend than goalkeeper Iker Casillas’ parting of ways with Real Madrid.
In a bizarre press conference, the 34-year-old, who makes way for the expected arrival of Manchester United No. 1 David De Gea, announced on Sunday morning that he was leaving the club he joined as a 9-year-old for Portuguese giant FC Porto.
However, in stark contrast to the send-off Barcelona gave to its club legend, Xavi Hernandez, who departed at the end of last season, Casillas made this announcement all alone, in an empty stadium. According to the Guardian, there were just a small handful of fans gathered outside to say goodbye to their former hero.
Casillas will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play the game. He played 725 games for Real since his debut in 1999, winning every trophy there is to win, including five La Liga titles and three UEFA Champions Leagues with Real, as well as two European Championships and the World Cup with Spain. Why in the world wasn’t this man being honored with a proper send-off?
According to reports, there was supposed to be a send-off on Friday but the player decided to turn the offer down. Apparently, the negotiations about rescinding the final two years of his contract had become so bitter that Casillas thought that the gesture from the club was insincere; he felt he was being forced despite 25 loyal years.
So, as his former teammates traveled to Australia to begin their pre-season tour, Casillas gave his sad, tearful press conference, all alone. Later on that day, a report emerged quoting the player’s parents as saying that Real president Florentino Perez had never liked their son and was trying to force him to move to Porto, which they described as a “third-tier” team. Meanwhile, other reports claimed that Casillas has no relationship with either of his parents anymore.
In any event, the next day (Monday), a funny thing happened: Casillas for his presentation. Appearing alongside Perez and all 19 of his trophies, Casillas addressed the substantially larger crowd than the one gathered the previous day with a brief statement before heading down to greet them
According to Reuters, they were chanting for Perez to resign.
Perez, of course, also got the chance to say a few things. The Real president began by refuting what he described as "confused information that has been published that perhaps needs to be explained as it does not correspond with reality,” claiming instead that he had not fallen out with the departing star, whom he’d “always defended” and described as “irreplaceable.” Rather, he said things like: "Iker is leaving us because that was his wish. Nobody from Real Madrid asked him to leave the club. You have to look after your legends and Iker is one." He then added that the club was organizing a farewell friendly match for him against Porto sometime next season.
According to the Reuters report, Casillas, smiling throughout, twice shook Perez's hand, and chose not respond to questions about his parents' claims the day before. Per ESPN, he then thanked Perez for his kind words and said: "I leave taking only the good things with me -- the great ties, the trophies. I will try to spread the name of Real Madrid wherever I go."
It’s hard to know what to make of this awkward goodbye. As the Guardian points out, in the end, it was about more than the still-to-come arrival of De Gea and the battle for playing time: Casillas was known to have a particularly chummy relationship with the Spanish press, and had been accused on several occasions of leaking secrets to the media.
With that in mind, as well as the breakdown in negotiations over rescinding his current contract, you have to wonder whether Casillas called that press conference on Sunday himself. The fact that he was alone with the press and no questions were asked is certainly strange.
Either way, it was a clumsy, sad ending to one of soccer’s most storied club careers.