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Farewell to two football legends

This year, two of my favorite players are leaving their childhood clubs behind. Iker Casillas Fernandez, age 34, has been a goalkeeper for the first team at Real Madrid since 1999 and team captain for five years. Xavi Hernandez Creus, age 35, made his first team debut as a midfielder for FC Barcelona in 1998 and was captain this past season, when his team won all three major tournaments for the second time in Spanish history.

Despite the intense rivalry of their respective clubs, these two men have been friends since they met as teenagers. At times, their mutual esteem and affection have been the glue that holds the Spanish national team together, allowing them to win two European Cups and Spain's only World Cup between 2008 and 2012. Even the Prince of Asturias has recognized this OTP.

Xavi has chosen to leave FC Barcelona to play for Al Sadd in Qatar, mostly for the money - as he has admitted in interviews, the economic crisis in Spain has hit his family's business hard. But he got the farewells - from a stadium full of FC Barcelona fans, and from his teammates at his press conference - that his long years of illustrious service deserved.

This was Iker's farewell.* Even if you don't understand a word, the contrast is striking, no? Iker is not leaving because of financial hardship. He is leaving because ever since Jose Mourinho benched him because he was threatened by his popularity, Iker has struggled to maintain form, has been widely criticized by fans and in the press, and has felt the lack of support from his own club. Of course, he is too much of a gentleman to say so.

Guess who isn't? Never a man to keep his mouth shut when he perceives injustice in football, Xavi proceeded to publish a column in La Vanguardia in which he lambasted fickle fans for treating his BFF like shit. I won't translate all of it, but here are a few choice quotes:

"Conocí a Iker en el Mundial de Egipto sub-17 y congeniamos enseguida. Éramos unos críos, pero ya nos parecíamos. Nos gustaba vacilarnos y yo siempre he tenido debilidad por la gente rápida de mente. El paso de los años no ha cambiado a Iker, siempre que me preguntan por él contesto lo mismo: 'Este es muy buena gente.'

Por eso me sabe mal lo que está pasando con él. En los últimos años he visto que no disfrutaba como antes, lo veía incluso amargado y creo que deberíamos hacer una reflexión entre todos en este país al respecto... Veo a Iker y tengo la sensación de que últimamente jugaba bajo presión, como si tuviera que demostrar lo gran portero que es en cada partido, sin esa felicidad con la que siempre jugó. Ahora se va al Oporto y estoy seguro de que será recibido como un héroe."

I met Iker at the U-17 World Cup in Egypt and we got along immediately. We were kids, but we were already the same. We enjoyed teasing each other, and I have always had a weakness for quick-witted people. The passage of time has not changed Iker, and whenever I'm asked about him, I say the same thing: He is good people.

That's why what is happening to him leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In the last few years I've seen that he hasn't enjoyed it like before, I've even seen him bitter, and I believe that all of us in this country should reflect on this... I look at Iker and I have the feeling that lately he has been playing under pressure, as if he had to prove what a great keeper he is in every match, without the joy with which he always played. Now he's going to Oporto and I am sure that he will be received like a hero.

and regarding the relationship that transcends club rivalries:

"Lo que más me alegra es que hemos mantenido nuestra amistad por encima de nuestros colores. Iker es del Madrid cerrado y yo del Barça a tope pero logramos superar una crisis como lo hacen los matrimonios."

What makes me happiest is that we have put our friendship above our colors. Iker is of Madrid, period, and I am of Barça to the max, but we succeeded in overcoming a crisis the way that married people do.

*in fairness, Iker did finally agree to attend a farewell event at the Bernabeu, and about a gazillion fans showed up, many of whom called for President Florentino Perez's head.

<333333333 So much love for these two men, and I wish both of them all the best in this next stage of their respective careers.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 16th, 2015 02:56 pm (UTC)

True legends!
But I guess Casillas' goodbye from RM fans was a bit unfair he deserves more than that :(

Xavi was also lucky to end his career at Barcelona with a massive season! He will def not be forgotten.

Jul. 16th, 2015 11:06 pm (UTC)
As I understand it, many, many fans turned up to express their appreciation of Casillas. It's mainly the club management that treated him badly. He definitely deserved better!

And yes, Xavi was lucky to leave after an especially good year. He had originally planned to go the year before, but supposedly Luis Enrique persuaded him to stay. Hopefully he is glad that he did!
Jul. 17th, 2015 04:44 am (UTC)
Thank you for this. Because you know exactly how I feel about these two. I love them both dearly and I have been very, very sad about their leaving.

What Xavi said was exactly what needed to be said. People should reflect carefully on their treatment of Iker, someone who you could argue was responsible (like you say, along with Xavi) for uniting the Spanish NT and helping them achieve a WC and two European Cups. It made me feel sick all season to see his disheartened face at the Bernabeu. I am a Madrid fan but I wanted to disown my club in these instances. Iker suffered at the hands of Mou and Perez and as a byproduct, the fans. I won't forgive Mou and Perez for that.

Xavi was good friend to him, and Iker in turn, was good friend to Xavi. Iker placed his friendship with Xavi above their respective clubs and made it known publicly, something Mou was never happy with. Then the whole "mole" rumours started. If you know anything about Iker, you would know that he is a gentleman. There is no doubt in my mind that the hate towards him was unjustified.

Their friendship has meant a lot to me...it has shown me how football can unite people and really be a powerful thing. It meant a lot to me as a fan to see Xavi support Iker so openly, something even his own teammates didn't do (Ronaldo unfollowed him from Twitter, only to add him back afterwards...I'm really curious as to why that is. Real Madrid also unfollowed him immediately after the presser. Is this the thanks they give to Spain's best goalkeeper?)

Apparently when the fans were cheering him at the presser at the Bernabeu, Iker stood up to acknowledge them and Perez made him sit down (according to one of the articles I read online). I don't even count that presser as legitimate. The real one was the one where Iker is addressing the press alone, because that's how he asked for it to be. He didn't want Perez up there with him for a reason. Because he felt alone and ditched by Madrid. The second presser was a total farce...one that Perez probably begged him to do for the good of the club. And Iker said yes. Because he is a saint.

This whole thing is very sad. I love them both dearly and will miss them both. It's sad to see the players from the Spanish golden era move on. I'm glad Xavi seems happy at his new club and I hope that Iker too will be happy. They have been the very best <333
Jul. 17th, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC)
That's Xavi - the man who says what needs sayin'.

I definitely appreciate that Iker refused to make his Spain NT teammates "the enemy" under Mou and that this was threatening to his manager's ego/authority. And yes, of course, Iker is a true gentleman. The way he asked the fans at his presser to remember him, not as a good player but as a good person, just broke my heart.

I knew that Real Madrid had unfollowed Iker from Twitter after his presser - just shows who has all of the class in this situation, doesn't it? They don't call him Saint Iker for nothing. I had not heard that Ronaldo unfollowed him - I bet that Sergio was loyal, though!

I was sad when Puyol retired, but I was also okay with it because his body had taken so much punishment over the years and was just giving out on him. It's worse when two players I love who still have a lot to give their clubs decide to move on for other reasons (especially in Iker's case). But I know that Xavi will come back to Barcelona one day for sure. And I hope that Iker is happy wherever he ends up, bless his madridista heart.
Jul. 18th, 2015 12:52 pm (UTC)
Hey, we are discussing over at Hala_Madrid whether or not Puyi and Valdes were treated well when leaving the club? Another Barca fan said that apparently they didn't get the same appreciation that Xavi did? Do you know anything about that?

(And good on Xavi...I am so glad he's brutally honest all the time. He's such a great guy and yes, I am sure he will come back to Barca and be welcomed back at that. With Iker I'm less sure...I know he'll come back or visit at some stage but while he is playing at Porto I will have this fear that he will have to play against Madrid. That would kill him for sure...)
Jul. 18th, 2015 07:41 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I hope other people on my f-list weigh in, but I would definitely agree that the club did not make such a big deal about either of them leaving - whether that was the way they wanted it or not, I don't know. Actually, I strongly suspect that Valdes left because he was disgusted by current management, so maybe that's not so surprising in his case. And Puyi was going to come back as part of the sporting directorship, but when Zubizarreta was fired, he quit in protest. So maybe their political situations were more similar to that of Casillas.
Jul. 19th, 2015 04:53 am (UTC)
I hope you don't mind if I copy some of this into the discussion we're having over there...interesting. I always assumed Barca would have been different but I guess Xavi did leave on a high note, it may very well have been different for the others.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )



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