Skip to content

el niño de los guantes gastados…

November 17, 2009

Yes, I know, this is a blog about Real Madrid, not one solely devoted to Iker Casillas.

But he’s the one getting all the press lately, most recently for his 100 games with the national team.  And in honor of that, El País published a very nice article about him, entitled “the boy with the worn out gloves.”  Here is the translation of the article.

In November 1990, Iker Casillas was nine years old and one Saturday, he got up earlier than usual because the distance between his house in Móstoles and the Ciudad Deportiva of Real Madrid was more than 30 kilometers, almost an hour by car.  He didn’t know, but Antonio Mezquita, the heart and soul of La Fábrica during 20 years, was waiting for him: “Julio, a friend from Móstoles, had called me to tell me that he had seen a young kid there that had stood out for him.”  This Julio usually saw Iker and his father play football during weekends on the patio of the Joan Miró school, where the son would spend hours and hours intercepting the shots of his father.

Mezquita didn’t hesitate to sign the invitation for Iker to come to La Fábrica, where he worked from 1979 to 1999 until he was dismissed without even a thanks.  Mezquita dedicated his life to seeking young talents for Madrid, just as he had that morning in November:  he placed his bets on a child of nine years old who was “serious, humble and disciplined,” one who played with worn-out gloves.

On Jan. 12, 1991, Iker Casillas played his first game in the Torneo Social of Real Madrid, the lowest rung on the stepladder of Real Madrid.  On July 3, 2000 in Gothenburg, he debuted with the Spanish national team and on Saturday, he played his 100th game with La Roja.

Iker continues playing with worn-out gloves, even though his aunt Teresa no longer gives them to him as gifts nor does he ask the Three Kings for them.  Now, Reebok has even designed special ones for his 100th game with Spain.  He could debut a new pair of gloves for each game if he wanted to, but he continues using them until they are completely worn out, just as he had when he was a kid.  He says it’s a habit.  Because as a child, they had to last him an entire season, because there was no money for new ones.  And because there was no money, they had to improvise.  So Iker ended many seasons with gloves mended by the shoe repair man of the neighborhood, who would sew a bit of leather in the palms, where the gloves were the most worn-out.

Iker Casillas spent three months in the Torneo Social of Madrid.  Pedro Díaz, his coach on the alevín team, remembers bringing him to an international competition in Palma de Mallorca because his goalkeeper had injured himself.  “Mezquita advised me to take Iker, who was an alevín.  He was 10 years old and he played with those who were 11 or 12.  One year is a big difference at that age,” Díaz remembers.  He was always the youngest of the group and always with David Aganzo, or “El Cabezón” (The Big-headed One), as Iker baptized him.  They grew up together on Real Madrid: “we were always the smallest ones on the team, so ‘El Orejón’ (The Big-Eared One) and I were always together,” explains the Rayo Vallecano forward, who is surely the player who has seen Iker play the most.  “Iker transforms himself before games.  He likes to joke around, but at the same time, he’s very formal.”  Together, they lived through terrible days during a children’s tournament in Bolivia – “there was no food, everything was a disaster, but we learned a lot” – and in Nigeria in 1999, when they won the World Cup.  It’s said that there Iker played the best game of his life.  Aganzo says, “against Ghana, in the quarterfinals.  He was impressive.”  “That kid was very intelligent.  He always knew what to say in each moment and he was never a troublemaker,” remembers Díaz.  “He’s worked hard.  Talent is not enough.  It requires a lot of sacrifice and he enjoyed it.  Goalkeepers need an extra push to develop their individual qualities.  You have to have a lot of character and he always did.”

“I don’t think he’s the most hardworking goalkeeper, but he doesn’t need to be,” says José Manuel Ochotorena, the goalkeeping coach of the Spanish national team.  “He’s always known how much to work because he knows himself well, he has a tremendous amount of self-confidence and he’s demanding of himself.  He knows what he needs to do and he does it.”

Lately, he’s become obsessed with what he eats.  He’s stopped eating fried eggs and now prefers vegetables, meat and fish, but he’s always been a big eater.  Iker, who spent his summers in Navalacruz with his grandparents, was also a good student – he finished the eighth grade with a “sobresaliente” – so his summers were filled with bicycles, birds and football, of course.  In the town, everyone has known him since he was a little kid, so it’s impossible not to treat him naturally.  It was there that he learned to play pocha, his preferred pastime.

He was always competitive and extremely responsible.  Ochotorena says, “his maturity is not normal and it refers back to all those years of learning.”  Maneul Amieiro, the former goalkeeping coach of Madrid who worked with Iker from the time he was 12 until 2005, remembers, “he wasn’t extroverted and he didn’t say a lot, but he was a tremendous observer.”  He continues, “the first time that I spoke with him was to scold him, and of course he got this expression on his face of ‘who is this, he’s never spoken to me before.’  It was a final against Barcelona.  They scored a goal against him, and he got up furious, and caught the attention of everyone.”  At the end of the game, he asked Iker in the locker room, “why were you shouting at your teammates when it was your responsibility?”

Iker hates losing.  “He gets sick and stops talking,” his teammates and friends say.  A good friend reveals that “he goes home, puts on his pajamas and gets into bed.”  José Luis, his father, explains, “he always felt very bad.  As a kid, he would go sit in the car and not open his mouth until we got home.  But he never threw tantrums.”  It’s said that the defeats that hurt him the most were the 0-2 against Juventus, the 2-6 last year against Barça and that elimination of Spain against France in the 2006 World Cup.

Amieiro says that Iker always preferred to “find solutions” rather than let it get to him.  Emotional equilibrium is fundamental for a goalkeeper and Iker had that by the age of 12.  “He has a natural talent.  What we did was help him develop his potential and improve.”  In the case of Iker, it wasn’t an easy job: “it’s not the same working with a kid of 17 years who plays for the juvenil than with a kid of 17 years who’s on the first team of Real Madrid.  He didn’t know how to organize the defense nor did he know how to order them around, and he had problems with aerial plays.  In the span of several days, he had to defend the goal and start ordering around people whereas two days before, he was collecting their football cards.”

[We know that Iker has no problem doing that nowadays, no?]

Casillas debuted with La Rojita at the age of 15 in Wembley, where they beat England 3-1 and four years later, he was defending Spain’s goal in the 2002 World Cup.  In all this time, no one has ever seen him get nervous before a game.  “It’s impressive,” says Ochotorena.  “He has an abnormal talent.  He knows how to resolve any situation,” says Xabi Alonso.

“Serenity, self-assurance, agility, intuition…” says Pepe Reina, who’s known him since they were 14.  It was then that Barcelona opened the doors of La Masía to Iker, after Madrid had won a tournament in Irún after Iker stopped three penalties.  Juan Carlos Pérez Rojo, the then-coach of the youth team, spoke with Iker’s father.  “He’s a diamond in the rough and he needs to be polished,” he told him.

That kid with the worn-out gloves has been polished so much that he just played his 100th game with the Spanish national team.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. RealLisa permalink
    October 6, 2010 22:09

    Three Kings?? Who’re they?

    • October 7, 2010 00:03

      The three wise men, who brought Jesus gifts after he was born. In Spain, they’re the equivalent of Santa Claus, in that they bring gifts to children at Christmas.

  2. Milleca permalink
    February 7, 2011 12:42

    Wow, Una, this is really one of the best articles about Iker. Maybe this is why he is so humble and grounded even with so many responsibilities and whatelse–the journey he had to get where he is now. And the people who helped him succeed. This story is heartwarming, it makes me feel awed, if it’s ever more possible, at our captain.

  3. Mourn permalink
    February 9, 2011 10:24

    Found this through a link in the post about Antonio Mezquita. Thank you for the translation, a very interesting read and shows what a remarkable person Iker is.

    I wanted to ask about the Torneo Social. “Torneo” obviously means “tournament”, and I was under the impression that Torneo Social is some sort of a tryout tournament for the youth team hopefuls. But in this article it says that it lasts several months (“Iker Casillas spent three months in the Torneo Social”), so it apparently isn’t just a single tournament? Could you explain it in more detail, please?


  1. in continuation… « following Real Madrid…
  2. so this is now considered ‘dangerous?’ « following Real Madrid…
  3. DEP Antonio Mezquita « following Real Madrid…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: