Iker Casillas at El Mundo Magazine
El Mundo bills this as Iker’s first interview (I’m sure you know what that refers to). Anyway, Iker talks about a variety of topics, from his father’s profession to his grandparents to the paparazzi. And of course, football.
In a room in the Ciudad del Fútbol, the portraits of the 242 men who have played for the Spanish national team look down upon him, after one of the most complicated seasons of his career. He still looks like his photo. There is one hour to go before the concentración for the Confederations Cup begins, and the goalkeeper and captain of Spain and of Real Madrid, Iker Casillas, opens and extends his hand without enthusiasm. This hand without a glove isn’t all that impressive. It’s not very big, and the fingers are well, thick. However, it and its partner, insured in 2007 for 7.5 million euros, are perhaps the things that have brought the most joy to this country since the crisis began. It was the other one, the left one, that brought misfortune this year. In January, he fractured his hand and had to get surgery. After 72 days, he returned to his team, but his coach decided to bench him until the end of the season. He prefers not to speak about this.
How are you feeling ahead of Brazil?
With the intention of preparing for what the team will encounter next year, to experience the change of time and the country. And with the idea of having a good tournament, which is the only one we have to achieve. You never know when you will have the chance to play another one, because you have to win a Eurocopa or a World Cup, and that’s always difficult.
In 2010, right before the World Cup, José Manuel Ochotorena said that you hadn’t reached your peak yet. Three years later, are you there yet, or is there still room to improve?
Well, I believe that if we look at the two Eurocopas and the World Cup, I would say that the 2012 Eurocopa was the one of maturity, where you saw a more experienced, confident Iker.
Does the word maturity scare you, or do you like it?
No, I like it. You have to go through all stages. When you’re young, you don’t have maturity, but you do have other qualities. When you get older, you find in maturity things that you didn’t see before, when it comes time to chase down a ball, of positioning yourself, of dealing with the pressure of an important game… and that’s good. It’s in agreement with your personality in your professional and personal life.
Does it bring along with it greater physical, mental weariness, motivation?
When the career of a person is as long as mine could be, since I started getting called up for Madrid’s first team at the age of 16, that could happen. Luckily, for me, it doesn’t burden me. You can always give more, make many people happy… that is the motivation. If your body respects you, the most important thing you have is your head. And if your head wants to continue, you continue.
How are you physically?
The hand is phenomenal. I have to thank Dr. Del Cerro. When I found out I needed to have surgery, I was upset, but I believe my hand is better now than it was before.
Were you afraid?
Hombre, for a player who had never been injured before… and it was the hand, which has small bones, which can give you many problems. Now I have two screws that I’ll have for the rest of my life.
When Toshack gave you your first division debut at the age of 18, he said of you, “he has the head of an old man on the shoulders of a young one.”
Jejeje, well, I had had so many experiences with the youth teams of the national team and with the first team that he was possibly right, no? My head has always been on right, I knew how to act in whatever situation.
This old man’s head, do you also have it off the field?
Much more in the past few years than before. When you’re a kid, you don’t stop to think about the things that life gives you. I remember that when I was young, all my friends had at least one grandparent who had already passed away, but not me, I had all four. When you lose a grandfather, you realize that it happens to everyone. You think that these things are never going to happen to you, and in the end, they do.
How many of your grandparents are still alive?
Two, a grandmother and a grandfather, who’s not doing well at the moment.
Have they been important in your life?
Yes. My paternal grandparents and my maternal grandparents were very different. My paternal grandparents were big football fans, especially my grandfather, who passed away six or seven years ago. It’s a shame that he didn’t live to see what happened. My maternal grandfather, the one who is still alive, grew up in the old days. For him, football is people chasing after a ball…
Why did you become a goalkeeper?
The typical reasons, as a kid I wanted to be Arconada, and the classic reasons, I had a young aunt who wasn’t married and who had a boyfriend – who later became my uncle – and to make a good impression on her nephew, he gave him a kit. And that’s where it all began: you receive a goalkeeper’s kit, you put it on at home, you go to the park in it, you jump around on your parents’ bed, in the living room…
But usually no kid wants to be the goalkeeper.
That’s true. In my case, it was the opposite. I was always chosen first, because they knew they could put me as the goalkeeper.
How do you see the field from the goal?
It’s different, but you see everything, except when the rivals come towards you because you don’t have anyone around you. The space you have to see the game, to learn as well, is enormous: you understand the strategies more… it’s curious.
It’s said that for everyone, there comes a day when you realize that the world is ugly. Has that day come for you?
No, it hasn’t come yet. There have been stages in my life, but not that. It comes down to you not being accustomed to some things, but that moment hasn’t come yet for me. I am lucky to live a privileged life.
Do you feel a special gratitude towards anyone?
Hombre, I’ve been phenomenal with all the coaches I’ve ever had, but if there’s one, I would say Juan José Martín Delgado. He was my coach on the Cadete team and then with Real Madrid C, in the third division. He was the one who promoted me to C when I was 17, when it’s normal to play in the third division at the ages of 19 and 20. In a year and a half, I did what normally takes four years; it was a big change. I played against young men when I was still a kid.
Was it a bigger change than the move to the first division?
In the first division, the referees protect you, there are cameras, there are people… if a rival says something to you, you’re calm because you know that they’re all there. In the third division, no. When you play in the third division at the age of 17, the players you’re facing are 27, 28, 30, 32 years old. They’re married, with children, they have jobs outside of football, and if they win they receive a bonus at best. I remember that during one corner, a player came up to me and told me, “you, kid, for me, this is very important, I’m not fooling around…” And you get a bit distressed.
That doesn’t happen in the first division?
No, not in the first division.
How do you maintain your feet on the ground?
By being myself.
It’s that easy?
Yes. It’s also the mentality that each one has… I have had a humble, normal life. We always had enough to eat at home, but we know how to value money.
I’ve read contradictory things about your father. Some say he was a civil servant, others say he was a Guardia Civil…
Yes, I prefer not to say it, but everyone already knows. He’s a Guardia Civil. I avoided saying it for certain reasons… as a kid, I learned that my father was a civil servant and I believed it.
We’re from more or less the same generation, and my father is in the military, so I know what it’s like to have to say “no, my father is a civil servant…” back in the 1980s.
Of course, but it’s true, until I was 13, or perhaps a bit before that, I didn’t know that my father was a Guardia Civil.
What does being Spanish mean to you?
Well, apart from being something I’m proud of, it means being privileged. I believe we are in the perfect country. It’s a beautiful country, with many contrasts, in which you can enjoy life… we have problems, like all countries do, but as Alejandro Sanz said the other day, this is a country of fighters, of very hardworking people. Just look at how our grandparents lived 50 or 60 years ago. It’s something that is still fresh in our minds and makes you think.
Is it difficult for Spaniards to relate to being Spanish, with our symbols?
Well, I don’t know. I respect all decisions, each one feels what he or she has to feel, but I’m proud. I like being Spanish. I’m from Madrid, I grew up in Móstoles and Navalacruz, but above all that, I always put my nationality first, which is Spanish.
You said before that your family knows the value of money. Would you say you’re a frugal guy?
I consider myself as a guy who knows very well the value of money and what it takes to earn it. Obviously, I can’t complain, and I’ve said it a thousand times: I’ve had a lot of luck. I do what I love, and football moves around a lot of money. But the most important thing is to know how to manage it. I find it difficult to lose to my friends at cards, although it’s five or 10 euros. It upsets me, and I don’t think that’s bad, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m stingy.
Are you still in touch with your childhood friends?
Yes, with all of them.
And how are they doing?
Like everyone else. They’re working, getting married, there are ones who are having more difficulties, but luckily, in my group of friends, everyone is moving forward.
Is it complicated to stay friends when you live in such a different world?
Well, we’re not one of those groups that spends the entire day together, but we have enjoyed our adolescence together.
You joined Real Madrid at the age of nine.
You have a contract until 2017, when you will be 36. A lot?
Ricardo López is 41 and still playing… the position of goalkeeper is different. You can easily play until you’re 40. I’m sure you can play until you’re 38.
Do you see yourself playing for any other teams?
No, I don’t see myself outside of this team.
In the biography that Enrique Ortego wrote about you, he says that there was a moment in 2005 when you saw yourself leaving…
Well, the end of the contract was coming up, and the club thought one thing and I thought another… but we reached an agreement and I stayed. And happily so. Right now, I don’t see myself playing for any other team. If I leave in the future, it will be to do something else: to play outside of Spain, in a league that is not as competitive…
What has football taught you?
It has taught me how to be a better person, to relate with others, to express myself better, to speak in public, to have a stronger mentality… and also to help those who need it. For football, I have gone to Sierra Leone, to Mali, to Peru… if I weren’t a footballer, I wouldn’t know how they live there. I wouldn’t have traveled there nor would I have learned those things. I’m sure I would be in Móstoles, and not much more.
Have you ever thought about what you’d be doing if you hadn’t become a footballer?
I’m sure I would have been a solider, jejeje. No, I don’t know, something related perhaps. Police officer, I would have liked to do something like that.
What has football taken from you?
When you’re young, time. You don’t have time to play, to spend with your friends… Now it’s privacy. But if you put it on a scale, what it gives you outweighs what it takes away from you.
Does this lack of privacy hurt a lot?
Yes. But it hurts when you’re harassed, pursued. You don’t like it, and it’s something you never imagine would happen to you. Then you get to a point where you toughen up, when you reason it out. And if there are good manners and respect, and not harassment, you even begin to accept it.
Is that something you learn as well? Do you manage it better than you did three years ago?
Hombre, a lot better! What happens is that you leave a restaurant, and you see two, three photographers. And you immediately think, “who told them? Did they follow us? Did someone from the restaurant tip them off? Did someone see us in the restaurant and alert a friend?” In the beginning, you’re uneasy, then you say, “well, as long as they’re not bothering you…” You have to respect it. And now I also understand it. In the beginning, you would argue and almost fight with them, and now you see them and you greet them. And it’s true that they respect you now. We have mutual respect.
Do you also have to win respect in the goal?
Respect is something you win, and I’m not complaining about that. But we forget things really quickly. One day they tell you that you failed in a game when two months ago you were lifting up the Champions League Cup or the World Cup.
Do you forget, once you become a professional, that the reason a football exists is so that kids can run after it having a good time?
We can say that’s a very different world, no? The innocence that you play football with as a child and the good time you have don’t have anything to do with the first division. There are many interests, a lot of money in the world of football. And what we the lead actors of this sport want is for it to continue being a sport, not a business. And I believe everyone, president, players, directors, press… we have to make people continue to view it as a sport.
What do you think about in the tunnel before stepping on the field?
It’s a moment with a lot of nervousness, you think about what could happen during the game, you try to visualize it.
Do you pray?
Do you believe in God?
I believe, in my way, but I believe. I don’t go to church nor do I pray, but I do believe, yes.
Do you have any superstitions?
Well, when I spill salt, I throw a bit over the shoulder, but because someone’s there, if not, I don’t do it…
No, I only touch the crossbar when I get to the goal and that’s all. That and wearing my socks inside out.
Four years ago, after the 2008 Eurocopa, things weren’t going well for me and someone sent me a letter from prison. I don’t know who it was, but it was a Gypsy prisoner. He told me that everything that was happening to me was because I wasn’t performing well and because someone had placed a curse on me, and it would be removed if I wore an article of clothing inside out. And I wore my socks like that.
Did it work?
It worked. In fact, when I got injured, I was wearing them correctly.
What do you like to do off the field?
I like to play padel, to go bike riding, go to the movies…
What is the last one you saw?
It wasn’t long ago, at Kinépolis, and it was a bit bad, I don’t remember the name. It was one of those where you think, “we should have stayed at home.” The one we saw before that was Silver Linings Playbook, which isn’t that great either…
So you go quite often.
Yes. We usually go on days with less people: Mondays, Tuesdays.
Is it very cold on the bench?
Jejeje, no. It depends on the game. Hombre, when you’re used to experiencing it from another position, it’s different… but it’s also good to experience it from there once in a while. It teaches you to appreciate those people who don’t play. What you have to do is help your team and your teammates. That’s what I decided to do from the first day: to be with the team and cheer it on.
One of the first to bench you was Vicente del Bosque when he coached Madrid.
Yes, well, that was 12 years ago. Sometimes, those are also good moments to mature, no? I came from always playing, and the first few months that I spent on the bench helped me a lot.
Will we one day learn from you what happened this year in the locker room of Real Madrid?
Not from me, no. I have to think about the future, and the future is today.