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Donnarumma the latest character in Madrid's goalkeeping pantomime

José Mourinho dropped Iker Casillas in December 2012 to provoke a debate at Real Madrid that has not been resolved five-and-a-half years later.


José Mourinho, of course, is not to blame for the debate that continues to engulf the goalkeeping position at Real Madrid. Yet Mourinho was the coach who ended a decade-long period of stability, and began a roller coaster that, five years on, continues to twist and turn.

That night in Málaga

It was the 22 December 2012 when the Portuguese decided to give Adán a starting berth at La Rosaleda, thus banishing the previously-untouchable Iker Casillas to the bench. Even today, despite the unrelenting arrival of trophies at the Bernabéu, the question of who will play between the sticks remains a subject of debate and speculation.

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In the subsequent five-and-a-half years, five goalkeepers have vied for the position: Casillas, Adán, Diego López, Keylor Navas, and Casilla. Another, David De Gea, was prevented from signing for Madrid by a faulty fax machine two summers ago. Gianluigi Donnarumma, of AC Milan, is the latest to be linked with the number ‘1’ shirt.

Iker Casillas had been a constant in the 21st century; the first name on the team-sheet. Yet his reputation, his confidence, and his place in the team suffered up until his move to Porto in 2015. Apart from his early years with Los Blancos, where Casillas had to compete with Illgner and then César for a starting place, his spot in the team had been assured.

Thereafter, securing solid back-up was Madrid’s main concern: Carlos Sánchez (2001-2), Diego López (2004-05), Codina and Cobeño (2005-6), Dudek (2007-8), Adán (2009-10), Jesús, Pachecho, and Mejías (2011-12). And then the equilibrium broke. Mourinho began to question the stalwart’s form, stating that “Adán is better than Casillas”. Carlo Ancelotti did not restore faith in him, opting instead for Diego López.

Madrid's goalkeeping debate still rages

The consequences of 22 December 2012 remain apparent in 2017. A debate started that night, and has yet to be resolved. That night at La Rosaleda, Adán did not cover himself in glory. Madrid lost 3-2 to Málaga, perpetuating the goalkeeping instability. Adán was back in the team two weeks later, but received an early red card against Real Sociedad, causing Casillas to return to Mourinho’s plans. Only temporarily, however. Álvaro Arbeloa unwittingly injured Casillas at Mestalla, prompting Madrid to turn to the transfer market in search of a replacement. In came Diego López from Sevilla. 

With the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti the following season (2013-14), and with Casillas back to full fitness, it appeared that stability would return. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The Italian coach opted to rotate; Diego López played in LaLiga, while Casillas took the cup competitions. Diego López ended the season without a true understanding of his role at Madrid, and he was promptly sold to AC Milan.

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Keylor Navas arrived in his place, but Casillas was not done quite yet. He became a regular starter once again, with the Costa Rican only playing 11 times.

It proved to be a false summit. Casillas was fed up with the constant debate and whistles from the crowd. He decided to leave for pastures new at the end of the season. Part of the reason for this was a lack of confidence in Rafa Benítez.

Unconvincing Keylor

In 2015-16, Keylor Navas made the goalkeeping position his own, but he did not manage to flush out the debate as to whether it should be. The former-Levante stopper committed a string of errors, while back-up ‘keeper Casilla impressed.

The Real Madrid board have not stopped courting, without success, David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois, with the intention of making one of them Madrid’s goalkeeper for the next decade. Now, they are throwing admiring glances towards Gianluigi Donnarumma. That gives the distinct impression that, as soon as Keylor commits a blunder, the volcano lurking beneath the goalkeeping position will erupt once more.


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