When Xavi left Barcelona, there were tears. When Iker Casillas left Real Madrid, there were also tears, but they were tears of a different kind.
For Xavi, the tears were of appreciation for what Barcelona had given him, a lament for the passing of time and the fading of the light that had made his departure inevitable. Casillas, it seemed, was weeping tears of frustration and anger over an exit that seemed unnecessarily brutal. Not for him a sinecure in Qatar to run down his career; the transfer to Porto suggests he feels he still has a lot to give.
Lives that had run oddly parallel have diverged at last.
Perhaps that was always going to happen. Casillas is 16 months younger than Xavi. Goalkeepers go on to play longer than midfielders. Perhaps there was always going to be a four- or five-year period at the end of their careers when Casillas was still striving for major titles and Xavi was gone from Spain. But the difference in the manner of their exits–these two players who have embodied, whose friendship underpinned the golden age of Spanish football–is striking.
Whereas Xavi was seen off by his teammates at the end of last season, Casillas left on Sunday–five years to the day after winning the World Cup–with a lonely press conference, the rest of the Real Madrid squad on its way to Australia for a pre-season tour. He had been supposed to leave on Friday, but late wrangling over the dissolution of the contract delayed it.
He left again on Monday, before a crowd of 2,000 fans on a platform on which the trophies he won in 17 years at the club–five leagues, three Champions Leagues, two Copas del Rey–were displayed (and there were also, of course, two Euros and a World Cup at national level). It was hardly an emotional farewell, though; rather a self-justificatory press conference from president Florentino Perez, who was heckled by the fans.
"I look at Iker and I have the feeling that lately he is playing under pressure, as if he has to prove what a great keeper he is in every match, without the joy he always had," Xavi told La Vanguardia. “In recent years I have seen that he is not enjoying himself like before. He even seems bitter, and I think everyone in this country should think about this. It cannot be that people neglect to value everything they have done for their sport and instead focus on their defects, sometimes with malicious intent."
Perhaps the issue is in the relative personalities of Xavi and Casillas. Xavi seemed to accept with relative equanimity that his powers were fading and that last season would be one in which his main role was to support Ivan Rakitic. Casillas, though, despite a bout of poor form that has lasted well over a year, seems determined to fight on.
When Raul left in 2012, it was Casillas who became the dominant presence in the Madrid locker room and, in a world as political as the Bernabeu, that is a significant role. Even before the publication of Diego Torres’s book about Jose Mourinho, it was a fairly open secret that Casillas had been the leader of the internal opposition against him–which was, of course, what prompted Casillas’s relegation to a substitute role behind Diego Lopez toward the end of 2012-13.
Did Mourinho diagnose Casillas’s decline? Did he induce it?
It may be that the decision to offload Casillas and the wrangling over the future of Sergio Ramos–another key locker-room figure–was rooted in a desire on the part of the club to diminish the potential locker-room dissenters. Casillas’s mother openly blamed Perez, saying he had “orchestrated” a “campaign” against her son.
- SI VAULT: Wahl interviews Casillas in 2011
And of course there is the distant niggle about the game behind the game. Jorge Mendes is the agent of David De Gea and is negotiating to secure his move to Real Madrid from Manchester United. If De Gea is to sign, Casillas would have to be moved. Mendes has a good relationship with Porto. Just as you can’t help but wonder whether Chelsea would have taken a punt on loaning Radamel Falcao had it not been that Mendes represents both the forward and Jose Mourinho, it would be unrealistic not to acknowledge that Casillas’s move to Porto benefits Mendes and his interests.
That’s not to say anything illegal or even immoral is going on. A lot of deals in a lot of businesses are done in this way (“Yes, we’d love to buy X but, first we have to sell Y.” “OK, let me call Z and see if he might be interested”). But at the same time there’s something disturbing about individuals having so much influence.
Yet for all that, and for all the doubts about the extent to which Casillas may be to a degree responsible for the club’s lack of warmth, this feels more about Madrid and Perez. The endless politicking, the endless demand to be seen as the biggest in the world by breaking transfer records, gives the club a corporate feel: there’s something cold about it.
Nobody, it seems, can ever leave Madrid on good terms.
Football may now, more than ever before, be a business, but that shouldn’t mean there is no room for humanity. Casillas will be remembered as one of the greatest goalkeepers Real Madrid has ever had; the future will judge the anti-climactic nature of his farewell very strangely.
GALLERY: Tifos around the world
Best soccer tifos from around the world
Galatasaray fans display a sensational "Rocky" tifo ahead of their clash against rival Fenerbahce. It didn't inspire a victory, though. The Turkish rivals played to a 0-0 draw.
Borussia Dortmund fans channel their 1963 cup triumph over Benfica ahead of the teams' second leg in the Champions League round of 16 at Signal Iduna Park.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans turn to Moses for tifo inspiration, with his splitting the Red Sea illustrating how "impossible is nothing" in their Europa League series against Besiktas.
Fans of Tunisia's Club Africain display this pointed tifo at a friendly against PSG, whose Qatari owners have pumped millions and millions into the club.
U.S. fans in Columbus, Ohio, make a "One Nation, One Team" statement ahead of the USMNT's World Cup qualifying match against Mexico on November 11, 2016.
Germany fans display their heart for the team colors ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic in October 2016.
Italy fans spell out their support for the Azzurri ahead of a massive World Cup qualifier vs. Spain in October 2018.
Iceland fans keep up their world-famous passion for the national team during a World Cup qualifier against Turkey in October 2016.
Fans in the United Arab Emirates set their sights on reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia during a qualifying match vs. Australia in September 2016.
Colombia fans send a massive jersey around the stadium during a World Cup qualifier vs. Venezuela in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn to Game Of Thrones for inspiration in a game against the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps in September 2016.
Djurgardens fans go all out in Sweden for a match against AIK in September 2016.
Zulte Waregem fans prepare Kortrijk for the absolute worst in this Belgian top-flight match in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn their pop culture reference to Poltergeist in March 2016 ahead of the season home opener against Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers Army doubles down on their Eastbound and Down theme, adding another wrinkle during the club's MLS Western Conference final first leg vs. FC Dallas on November 22, 2015 at Providence Park.
Fans make a French flag tifo at Wembley Stadium during the singing of Le Marseillaise ahead of England's friendly vs. France, which took place days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Timbers Army referenced Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers with their "Cup Bound and Down" tifo for the Portland Timbers' MLS playoff elimination game against Sporting Kansas City on October 29, 2015.
Brondby IF fans display a gladiator holding up a lion's head during the team's Danish Alka Superliga match against FC Copenhagen, whose logo is a lion's head, on September 27, 2015.
New England Revolution fans equate Jermaine Jones to Indiana Jones on their quest to capture the 2015 MLS Cup on September 26, 2015.
New England Revolution fans display a Lion King theme in honor of Orlando City FC's first visit to Gillette Stadium on September 5, 2015.
Red Bulls fans take a shot at NYCFC's two summer arrivals, 37-year-old Frank Lampard and 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo, ahead of their third MLS meeting of 2015.
Germany fans in Cologne salute their World Cup champions ahead of a friendly against the United States in June, 2015.
Real Madrid fans went all out prior to the second leg of the 2014-15 Champions League semifinal vs. Juventus.
Lazio fans display a stunning eagle tifo ahead of the Rome derby against AS Roma in their penultimate Serie A match of the 2014-15 season.
Barcelona fans bid farewell to veteran midfielder Xavi with this banner at his last league game at Camp Nou before he departs for Qatari club Al Sadd.
Fans at Anfield pay tribute to Steven Gerrard in his final home match as a Liverpool player in May 2015.
Juventus fans state their case to beat Real Madrid in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals and reach the final in Berlin.
Fans at Benfica's Estadio da Luz remind rival Porto who the Primeira Liga reigning champion is during an April 2015 match in Portugal.
New York Red Bulls fans send a pointed message to their NYCFC counterparts prior to the teams' first MLS meeting in May, 2015.
Inter Milan's Curva Nord announces its presence ahead of the April 2015 Derby della Madonnina–the annual clashes between city rivals Inter and AC Milan.
Bayern Munich fans implore their club to (translated) "Never give up" in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Porto. Bayern then turned a 3-1 first-leg deficit into a 7-4 aggregate win and a place in the semifinals.
Dortmund fans commemorate their 1997 Champions League trophy in the club's clash vs. Juventus–the opponent on the wrong side of that title bout.
Portland Timbers fans speak out against homophobia with this tifo in a 2013 match against Chivas USA
Atletico's supporters display a banner reading "Atleti crushes" before the Spanish league match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid,
Borussia Dortmund fans put on a remarkable display ahead of a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match.
Brondby IF fans unveil a tifo ahead of a match in Denmark against Randers FC.
FC Barcelona fans display a huge banner in memory of former head coach Tito Vilanova.
Galatasaray fans support their team during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
The American Outlaws unveil a huge tifo ahead of a 2014 World Cup send-off match between the USA and Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Marseille's supporters use paper sheets to create an "OM" (Olympique de Marseille) tifo at the beginning of the French L1 football match between Marseille and Genoble.
Seattle Sounders fans display their tifo that shows coach Sigi Schmid playing cards and holding a Royal Flush before a match against the Portland Timbers.
Panathinaikos Athens fans display a banner during the UEFA Europa League match against Dynamo Moscow.
Fans of the Saudi Al-Hilal team celebrate after the scoring of a goal against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor.
Seattle Sounders fans unveil a tifo inspired from the “Build a Bonfire” chant, featuring Sounder players holding torches on horseback ahead of a game against the Portland Timbers.
Fans of Hertha BSC before the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen in Berlin.
Sporting Kansas City fans channel their inner Mario ahead of the 2013 MLS Cup final vs. Real Salt Lake.
Brondby IF fans.
Thousands of Barcelona fans hold up cards to spell out "Barca! Orgull," which translates to "Barcelona pride" ahead of a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich at Camp Nou.
Fans raise a tifo celebrating “Community, Club and Country” ahead of a CONCACAF Gold Cup match between the USA and Belize in Portland, Oregon.
Vitesse fans unfurl a massive Eagle banner at the Dutch Eredivisie match against Ajax at the GelreDome.
Valencia fans drape a banner featuring a king for a Copa del Rey ("The King's Cup) match against Atletico Madrid.
Juventus fans make a statement in Turin in a match vs. Inter Milan.
Dortmund fans put on another strong display at a Bundesliga match against Mainz 05.
German fans boast the newest star earned by the national team, symbolizing its 2014 World Cup triumph, at a Euro 2016 qualifying match in Dortmund.
Real Madrid fans make a point to display the club's 10 European championships ahead of the October 2014 clash against rival Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
San Jose Earthquakes fans unleash a massive tifo to mark the opening of Avaya Stadium, MLS's newest soccer-specific venue, in March 2015.
Barcelona fans show all who the real 12th man is ahead of the March 2015 Clásico vs. Real Madrid.
Ahead of a clash with Mexican foe Monterrey, Tigres players are treated by this message by its fervent supporters.
Standard Liege fans have a pointed message for Steven Defour, who departed the club for Belgian rival Anderlecht.
Orlando City fans mark their club's inaugural MLS game vs. fellow expansion side New York City FC with a statement that the Lions' "reign begins now."
Real Madrid fans salute Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo after he captured the most prestigious individual prize in world soccer again.
Vitesse fans pay homage to Operation Market Garden ahead of an Eredivisie match against SC Heerenveen.
Sevilla's fans deploy a giant banner in the stands before the UEFA Europa league final match between Benfica and Sevilla.
Fans in Liverpool’s Kop End at Anfield commemorate those lost in the Hillsborough disaster.
Lyon fans during a game against Saint Etienne.