There’s a saying, inspired by Madrid-born George Santayana, that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, and it’s a message Vicente Del Bosque would do well to heed as Euro 2016 approaches. The coach is standing by Iker Casillas as Spain’s first-choice goalkeeper despite the excellent David De Gea waiting in the wings, suggesting he learned nothing from World Cup 2014.
La Roja went to Brazil as reigning world champions and left in short order with their tails between their legs. Del Bosque’s side were pedestrian from almost the very start of their trophy defence and their tournament was effectively over after 72 minutes against the Netherlands, when Robin van Persie scored his second goal, his team’s fifth, of what ended as a 5-1 rout. There was no going back.
Casillas was one of the villains of that painful day in Salvador, beaten first by a stunning van Persie header that he could only watch loop over him and into the net, then later failing to deal with a Wesley Sneijder free-kick before Stefan De Vrij converted it. He was then dispossessed by van Persie for the fourth goal and, though Casillas had made some outstanding saves, the mistakes counted for more.
The World Cup came after a season in which Casillas only played European and Copa del Rey football for Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti preferring Diego Lopez for La Liga. And Madrid did win both of those competitions, perhaps giving Del Bosque enough reason to keep faith in the leader of the generation that won two European Championships and a World Cup in four years.
But even then De Gea was breathing down Casillas’ neck, and there were calls for the Manchester United custodian to supplant the veteran. Del Bosque resisted and even after the World Cup humiliation, as midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso retired and David Villa was stood down, Casillas kept his place. He returned to the Madrid league XI the following season but it was his last at Santiago Bernabeu, a move to Porto bringing an end to an era at club level.
It still didn’t mean the end internationally, though. Del Bosque welcomed the move across Iberia and apparently took no notice that the player Madrid wanted to replace Casillas was De Gea and but for a dodgy fax machine he might well be wearing Madrid colours today. It appears only injury will give De Gea the No 1 shirt in France this summer.
Del Bosque maintained his defence of Casillas again this week after criticism of Casillas for a mistake that led to a Porto defeat, against Vitoria Guimaeres. ‘All goalkeepers make mistakes,’ Del Bosque pointed out in an interview with Cadena COPE. He’s right, of course. But having inadvertently paraphrased George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Del Bosque would do well to consider the inevitable next line: ‘Some make more mistakes than others.’