the Iker book – part II
Here is the rest of the chapter on Iker’s origins with Real Madrid, which details his meteoric rise from the Benjamín team to the first team in the course of a decade.
Chapter 1: Real Madrid, his only team.
The first trip to Paris.
The final selection was made, and 18 boys formed a Benjamín Football 7 team. Iker was among them.
That season, Real Madrid played in the Meudon international tournament, in Paris, France. It was Iker’s first airplane trip. The final was on the day of his 10th birthday, but Real Madrid lost against Benfica in a penalty shootout.
In the 1991-92 season, Iker had his first ficha as a Real Madrid player, playing with the Alevín B team. He won the Liga against rivals who were one year older than he was. His team only lost two games.
He began his pilgrimage from Móstoles to the Ciudad Deportiva three afternoons a week. His father always took him by car, and stayed to watch each training session. “I believe my obligation was to watch over Iker, in case he was hit or anything like that. In addition, I liked watching him train. Later on, I would take him to all the games. It was my second job.”
The next step was the Alevín A team, coached by Pedro Díaz, who had coached or would coach Guti, Granero, Pavón… His team went undefeated for four years.
Pedro Díaz says, “he trained very seriously. When you spoke to him, he paid a great deal of attention to you, a lot considering he was just a kid. I realized he knew what he wanted and that he improved in each training session, in each game. He was very responsible, very serious. I have a good memory of him. One day, when he was already training with the first team, when he was 18 or 19, he saw me in the Ciudad Deportiva and he gave me a hug. Not everyone has done that.”
The Nike Cup, his first big title.
He made the jump to the Infantil B team, which ended as champions as well. The next season, 1994-95, he played with the Infantil A team, with Paco Jiménez in charge. The team won the Liga and the national Nike Premier Cup (for footballers under the age of 14), which allowed Real Madrid to represent Spain in the European Nike Premier Cup in Paris. Real Madrid had defeated Barcelona on May 1, 1995 to win the national version. The game went to a penalty shootout, and Iker stopped one, while another penalty was missed.
In Paris, Real Madrid made it to the final against Eintracht Frankfurt. The game ended in a 1-1 tie (the first goal that Iker had allowed in the entire tournament) and in the penalty shootout, Madrid triumphed 5-3. Iker stopped the last shot, and ended the tournament as the best goalkeeper. Luis Figo presented the trophy to the champions at Eurodisney, and Nike signed Iker to a contract for three years, thanks to his stellar performance.
Paco Jiménez, who would later on coincide with Iker again on the first team and with the Spanish national team, says, “you could already see that he had incredible qualities during the time of that Cup. He already had this speed in his movements. He was very agile, very fast. He had terrific reflexes, and the qualities needed to be a captain. He was always in the group that was in charge of the team, but he was a very well-mannered boy, and you could tell that he came from a simple family. I’m still good friends with his father. We’ve spoken a lot about Iker. He’s always supported him, and he has a lot to do with what his son is now.”
As a reward, the team received a trip to the United States, where they traveled to Portland, Nike’s headquarters, and to Los Angeles. In between stops to tourist attractions, they played three friendlies. When they returned home, Valdano’s Real Madrid, who had won the Liga, gave them an honor guard in the Bernabéu.
The U-15 World Cup in Bolivia.
It was the 1995-96 season. Iker was playing on the Cadete B team, with Rafa López as his coach. In the Liga, Real Madrid won 25 games and tied one. Real Madrid also participated in the U-15 World Cup in Bolivia, as they had won the Nike Premier Cup. The expedition was led by Antonio Mezquita. Upon seeing the conditions of the hotel in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, as well as the food the team would have to eat, he consulted with the club to see if they should continue or go home. The worst happened on the first night, when the dinner at a restaurant proved to be so inedible that Mezquita told them all to get up and leave. They ended up going to a supermarket.
The next day, Mezquita negotiated with the organizers, asking for mineral water and edible food. Real Madrid stayed and made it to the final round, where four teams would play each other. Madrid won their first two games, and in the final one they were to face the hosts, Tahuichi. The hosts instead interpreted the rules in their way, declaring that although both teams had the same number of points, a tie would be enough for them to become champions. Mezquita defend his position and the real interpretation of the rules meant that a tie would favor Real Madrid. And that’s what happened. The final game ended 2-2, and Real Madrid became champions, after an agonizing final in which the referee added seven minutes of extra time.
The big winner that night was Iker Casillas. He had a brilliant performance. At the end of the game, he was interviewed while still on the field. He was nervous, you could tell by his voice, as he spoke very fast without thinking too much about his answers.
“It took a lot of effort from us. They also made a big effort. It was a big win. They fought like champions, but we won due to the goal average… but the goal average also counts, ¡vamos, vamos!”
He was asked if he had been the best on his team. His response: “I don’t think I was the best. We’re a team. Eleven guys who are on the field. All 11 of us gave it our all on the field, and whatever I have, I would give to my team, and they would do the same for me.”
Iker was then asked what team he supported. He didn’t understand the question. When it was repeated, his response was, “I’m with Real Madrid until death, until death.” He also said his idols were Buyo, Juanjo Valencia and Schmeichel.
Rafa López says, “the reality is I made a mistake with him. I told him that in four years time, he would be with the first team, when it actually only took him three years. At the age of 14, he already had a big personality in the goal. He was a diamond. It was very difficult to score on him. In one-on-one situations, he was unbeatable. In the final, I realized that Iker was going to be the best goalkeeper in the world. His saves were incredible… There is a written report in the club with my signature saying that by the time he turned 18, he would be on the first team, and he made it by 17. Vicente del Bosque read that report.”
On the Cadete A team, his progression continued, with Juanjo Martín Delgado as his coach. They were unbeaten in the Liga, with 25 wins and a tie, but lost the final of the Copa de Madrid in penalties. They were also the runner-ups in the European championship. At this point, the club wanted to compensate Iker and his family economically, so they paid him 25,000 pesetas (€150) a month, which his mother took care of. The only thing Iker purchased was a pair of new gloves, as his previous pair had worn out.
Several years later, when Juanjo had already left to become Heynckes’ assistant at Benfica, he returned to the Ciudad Deportiva. Iker stopped his car to give him a hug, even though he knew that he was going to be besieged by the female fans waiting for him on the other side of the gate.
Two leaps forward.
In the 1997-98 season, Iker played for the Juvenil A team, coached by Luis Palmero. Based on all the positive reports, Vicente del Bosque allowed him to bypass two teams to go directly from Cadete A to Juvenil A. The team won the Liga with a 19-point advantage. In that season, Iker was called up at times to play with RMC, which was in the third division. The club offered him a real contract, three years for 1.5 million, 3.5 million and 5 million (about €30,000). In reality, only the first year of this contract was carried out, because the next year, when he was playing in the third division, the offer was for 30 million, 35 million and 40 million (€240,000).
Palmero says, “he always behaved wonderfully. He had to leave his school at three to train with us at five. It took one and a half hours to come from Móstoles by train. His behavior was always exemplary. He wasn’t mischievous and we never had to scold him. He was more introverted than he is now. He was very responsible.”
His first experience with the first team happened this year. He traveled to Rosenborg, but didn’t play.
In the 1998-99 season, he was promoted to RMC, where he was once again coached by Martín Delgado. On Thursday and Fridays, he trained with the first team. Certain players from the first team took him under their wings. Contreras and Morientes spoke to him about the trip to Rosenborg, and he was surprised that they remembered it.
Since the training sessions were in the morning and his father couldn’t take him because he was at work, Iker had to go to the Ciudad Deportiva using three types of public transportation. First, one hour by bus from his home in Móstoles to the train station. Then a train ride to Atocha. There, he had to switch trains to take the one to Chamartín. From there, he transferred to the metro, taking it to Begoña. The solution was the monthly transport pass, which cost five million pesetas, but was much more economical than the 135 pesetas for each train ride and 165 for each bus ride.
In that season, Iker traveled with the first team for a Champions League game. The club invited all the players who had been called up at least once during the competition to go to Tokyo for the Intercontinental Cup. Iker traveled as the third goalkeeper, but didn’t sit on the bench. The final was on Dec. 1 against Vasco de Gama. Iker didn’t see the first goal, scored by Roberto Carlos, because he was looking in the other direction at that moment. A bit later, he almost got into a fight with Vasco de Gama’s substitutes who were trashing those from Madrid.
“When Raúl scored, I wanted to tell them something, but I remained silent out of good manners. I do remember that I celebrated as if I had played. I took photos with the Copa, I ran around the field, I sprayed champagne in the locker room and I enjoyed myself at Cibeles. I couldn’t believe I was there, next to Raúl, lifting up the Copa and with the fans cheering. The experience at Cibeles was the most incredible of them all. Morientes, who was one of the ones who spoke the most with me, told me that not everyone was a world champion at the age of 17. He was right…”
A few days later, on Dec. 17, he was called up officially to travel with the first team to Oviedo. Almansa was injured and only Illgner was left. Iker sat on the bench. On Monday, he had two exams, English and math. He didn’t study a lot. The team lost 1-0.
Before the year ended, he made his debut at the Bernabéu, in a friendly against Atlético to benefit the victims of Hurricane Mitch. The eternal rival won.
The next season, he played for Real Madrid B in the Segunda B division under the orders of Paco García Hernández. Over on the first team, Toshack wasn’t happy with his two goalkeepers, Illgner and Bizzarri (the book spells both of their names wrong). Illgner got injured and the coach remembered a goalkeeper he had seen make two incredible saves in a training session game, Iker Casillas. Then Illgner recovered and Toshack decided to give Bizzarri another chance. Casillas returned to his team.
Then Vicente del Bosque took over the first team, called him up, and Iker never came back.