Had Iker Casillas written his own script, his vindication would have been Lisbon, a year-and-half-ago, when he wore the captain’s armband as Real Madrid claimed their 10th European crown. But it’s been a some time since San Iker could author his own fairytales. Over the past five years, a player that was once considered among the world’s best goalkeepers has waned, doing so disputably, dramatically, and ultimately, sadly. Even on that Saturday 16 months ago, when he would lift UEFA’s Champions League trophy for a third time, Casillas’s shaky display against rival Atlético nearly cost his team its coveted decima. Now 34, Casillas is no longer in the conversation as the world’s best. He’s no longer even at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Ask those who still call Casillas San and there’s a clear villain in his script – a man who was brought to Madrid five years ago, ostensibly to ensure that decima. In that, José Mourinho ultimately failed, but during his last season in charge of Los Blancos, he accomplished something few dreamed imaginable. By the time he left the Spanish capital in the spring of 2013, the self-dubbed Special One had thrown Casillas’s career into turmoil, benching the El Real and Spanish national team captain and accelerating a decline that persists to this day.
On Tuesday, at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal, Casillas will have another chance at vindication (live on FOX Deportes and ESPN3 at 2:45pm for viewers in the United States). There, in goal for FC Porto, Mourinho’s former charge will be part of a team that welcomes the icon back to his old ground – the place where he first came to European prominence. And should Casillas perform to the standard Mourinho no longer thought him capable of, Saint Iker can accelerate what could be one of his adversary’s greatest failures.
That failure, of course, could be this season at Chelsea, the third in Mourinho’s return to London. Having seen mild success in Madrid, delivering a league title few thought the Merengues could take from Barcelona, Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge in 2013 amidst a pique of nostalgia, with both he and owner Roman Abramovich longing for the days before petulance broken them apart. Staying the slow declined that started after Carlo Ancelotti’s 2011 departure, Mourinho brought the Blues back into title contention, delivering the Premier League to Blues’ supporters in his second season in charge. In just over five seasons with Chelsea (spread over two different spells), Mourinho’s claimed seven major honors.