the Iker book – part III
It’s been a hectic week for me (and for Madrid as well), and we have a big game coming up this weekend, so I think we all need a bit of distraction and relaxation at the moment. So, here’s more from the Iker book. For now, I’m going to skip the chapters that focus on his meteoric career rise and go straight to the more personal ones. One chapter has other people reflecting on Iker, and in this excerpt, we have his national team teammates, and in one case, also a Real Madrid teammate, speaking about him: Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernández and Gerard López (Iker’s original bromance; I remember very clearly how excited I got each time I saw them together. Anyone else remember the “libre directo” web site, circa 2000?).
Although we were born in the same year, we didn’t play together on the national team until I arrived at the senior team. I hadn’t played much before the U-21 level, and he had played in every category. Before we became teammates at Real Madrid, we already got along well because we were the same age. We’re from the same generation and we spent a lot of time together in the concentraciones of the national team, we went out together during our free time.
Iker is as he appears. Very simple. That’s what he’s like and that’s the impression he gives. He’s the type of man who spends a lot of time with his family and friends. That’s where he feels comfortable and that’s where he wants to be. In the locker room, he’s won the respect and affection of everyone precisely for this, for his way of being and for understanding life and the situations that come up.
You either have charisma or you don’t, and he does. You can’t work on this or achieve it and that’s what allows you to win the respect and admiration of everyone. In terms of football, he has a gift of always appearing in opportune moments, when the team needs him the most. There are so many examples, from the final in Glasgow to the stop he made against Robben in the World Cup, or the penalties against Italy in the Eurocopa, or the one he stopped from Cardozo against Paraguay. He has a magic touch. He makes saves that make a difference and win titles.
There are many great goalkeepers right now but he’s unique in having this ability to make important saves. It’s also something that you either have or you don’t. Very few people have had the career he has had, with his club and national team. He’s a chosen one.
As a person, he’s matured a lot in recent years. Being captain requires him to do many things and he feels prepared for everything because he’s learned a lot. Years ago, when Hierro or Raúl was here, he probably didn’t have this role, but he was learning. When he had to take the step forward to become the leader, he did so without any problems.
I know him quite well, and I admit that this change surprised me, but he has been conscious in every moment that it had to be this way and that he had to face up to this responsibility without losing who he was, that boy next door who is full of jokes, humble and simple. The truth is he doesn’t shy away from anything. He speaks with maturity and he handles all the issues he has to handle. Before, he didn’t have this pressure. Now he does and he faces up to it.
Iker and I began to play for the national team together before the U-17 World Cup. I’m one year older than him and I have no memories of ever facing him with our teams in those youth tournaments. From that point on, we haven’t separated. We were together on the U-17, U-18 and U-20 teams, he didn’t go to the Olympic Games in Sydney because he had already been promoted to the senior team, and then came all the experiences that we’ve had together on the senior team, such as that Eurocopa and that World Cup.
I have to publicly admit that I have a lot of affection for Iker and I sincerely believe we have a great friendship. It’s been many years together, we’ve shared many moments, both good and bad, and that brings you closer. In addition, he’s a guy that makes you love him. He’s always been how he is now: joking around, happy, sincere, competitive, very competitive… he’s always making bets in order to compete.
What calls my attention is his energy. He’s also very affectionate. He scolds you, he teases you, but always with respect. Right now we’re the captains along with Puyi, and now is the the time he’s showing his character and making everyone respect him, both teammates and coaches because he’s committed and he always does things for the common good. He’s very practical.
For example, when the problem came up from the Madrid-Barcelona games, and we saw that the situation could get worse, he called me and he said, “Pelopo – he almost always calls me Pelopo or máquina – we have to fix this. We’ve suffered a lot and we haven’t gotten to where we’ve gotten only to have a falling out for what could happen.” It was lucky that it was Iker who was the captain of his team and national team so that the problem could be resolved. I believe that if he hadn’t mediated in the moment he had, the relationships would have gotten worse and I really don’t know how things would have ended. But he knew what to do because of the way he is.
[It’s nice to remember this ahead of the upcoming clásico, no?]
Iker is not a solitary captain, he speaks with everyone. He’s very detail oriented. Sometimes he asks me for shirts to give to his brother, who supports Barça, and whenever we can, we exchange ours. He’s one of those persons who fosters a team spirit, who contributes to the group. His leadership skills are natural, not forced. In that sense, I believe we’re quite similar. We’re both strong mentally. Years ago, it was different. He didn’t have the authority that he has now and he had to tread lightly. Now he feels like a captain and he wears it well. He surprises me with how he manages each moment with the míster in the concentraciones or the meetings to talk about the issues that we have. He’s not materialistic or egotistic. He could take advantage of things for being who he is, but he always thinks about the others.
What I like most about him is his naturalness. He’s humble, he’s a normal guy, without duplicity. If he has to tell you something, he tells you. He spends very little money, it is said, and I’ve never received anything from him… I will never forget a joke he and Etxebe [Joseba Etxeberria] played on me in Kiev, in a game where we tied Ukraine when Sáez was the coach. We went out after the game to have a drink, and after we came back, I went to sleep. The three of us were sharing a room, and they took that opportunity to stuff into my suitcase everything they could take from the room: the telephone, a vase, towels…
I was in a hurry and I didn’t notice until we got to the airport. At customs, the police opened up my suitcase and found that entire arsenal… I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t go beyond that, but I had a bad time of it. Whenever he can, he makes trouble for you and that’s why I don’t usually play cards with him. We have many anecdotes because he’s never keeps still. In the U-20 World Cup in Nigeria, we wanted to return to Spain, since we were having a bad time and we lost four or five kilos.
As a goalkeeper, he’s a guarantee. Knowing that he’s back there gives you tranquility to play. There are not many goalkeepers in the world with his self-assurance; his appearance transmits confidence. He’s almost unbeatable one on one. I love him a lot, he’s a great guy as a captain and as a person. I don’t think anyone has anything bad to say about Iker. He’s exceptional.
Where we really began to co-exist with each other was during the Eurocopa of 2000, first in the concentración in El Saler and then in the Netherlands and Belgium. We had a great time, it was fun. He called me “bear” because I spent the whole day sleeping and I called him “miser” because he spent very little money, he was very stingy. At least he was back then, I don’t know what he’s like now.
I was 21 and he was 19. We spent a lot of time in our room. Both of us were single and on free days or during the afternoons, we watched television, especially tennis. That year, Kuerten won the French Open. We made bets. On free days, the players were allowed to meet up with their girlfriends or wives, but we were alone. We laughed a lot at the noises we heard coming out of the other rooms. The walls weren’t very thick and you could hear everything. If only those walls could talk…
We debuted at the same time. I will never forget that moment. I looked to one side and there he was, also preparing to enter the game. It appeared that we were inseparable, since we even entered the field in the same minute! I remember that we smiled at each other.
After the Eurocopa, we continued sharing a room while on national team duty. In a concentración before playing against Israel in Madrid, we were staying at a hotel next to the Fuente de Neptuno and we had a great time. At that time, reality shows were just beginning, I think it was “Gran Hermano” (“Big Brother”). We got addicted. I scored a goal against Israel. And then later on due to injury, I stopped playing for the national team.
To think back then that Iker would get as far as he has was difficult, but I could already see that he was great, that he had a good head on his shoulders. He was very mature, and he trained with a tremendous professionalism for his age. He had character. In those training sessions, he ordered around players who were 10 years older than him. He’s always had personality and brains. You have to have both to support the pressure of playing in Real Madrid for so many years.
Later on, we didn’t stay in contact and in a Barça-Madrid game, we had an incident. I remember it as if it happened today. It was a Liga game, and in the last minute, there was a disputed ball. Iker came out and I fell to the ground with my studs up, and they hit him in the face. The truth is I didn’t even notice, but he got up and grabbed my neck and he wanted to punch me. I shouted, “Iker, sorry, Iker, sorry!” and he said, “don’t give me that, you hit me, you hit me.”
Fortunately, he calmed down and I could apologize. I think they beat us (1-2). Ronaldo scored two goals and Kluivert scored ours. I have his shirt. The truth is I have a lot of affection for him.