Víctor Valdés' letter to Iker Casillas
As he recovers from his operation, Iker Casillas will no doubt have been overwhelmed by all the messages he's received, of which he'll only have had time to read a very small fraction. From the president of Portugal to tens of thousands of ordinary fans, he has been swamped by well-wishers expressing their support for the goalkeeper, and saying how pleased they are that he's on the mend. Of all the messages he has been sent, one that is particularly special is the letter penned by Víctor Valdés, a rival at club level when Real Madrid and Barcelona's enmity was at its bitterest - and a competitor for selection in the Spain team, in which there was only room for one. The gloves went to Casillas, who'd got there first.
Valdés was a terrific keeper who, but for Casillas, would surely have been Spain's first choice for all those years, no doubt with the same success. Yet when Casillas lost his place at Madrid but stayed in the Spain side, Valdés resisted the temptation to publicly push for his starting spot, despite the press pack giving him several opportunities to do so. No, he backed Casillas with the same sincerity we've now seen in this letter - a social-media post in which he has no hesitation in recognising 'San Iker' as a footballer touched by the almighty, blessed with a gift, given natural abilities that left him ahead of the rest. After all, while Casillas' skill set came pre-installed, so many others, including Valdés, had to sweat blood to try and match it.
Unfortunately, Valdés' career came to a sad end, as a result of an untimely injury suffered right when he was preparing to move abroad. He could have gone on until he was 40, just as Casillas had planned on doing and now also won't be able to, no matter how harsh a reality that is to face up to. However, football's doors will remain open to them both: to Valdés as a coach, a career path that he's working on as we speak, and to Casillas in all manner of possible roles. At FIFA, at UEFA, or perhaps at Madrid, where Florentino Pérez may want him where he can keep an eye on him, a bit like Raúl. We'll no longer see either of them out on the pitch, but they'll forever remain etched into the memories of the fans, who will never forget their colossal exploits between the sticks, or their exemplary rivalry.