Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas has featured in 20 successive UEFA Champions League campaigns, winning the competition with Real Madrid in 2000, 2002 and 2014; UEFA.com sat down with the Spain great ahead of Porto’s last-16 tie with Roma to reflect on a stellar career to date.
On life at Porto …
The dragon [the Porto symbol] is part of this historic club, which won two UEFA Champions League titles – in the old format and the new. It is where I call home nowadays and I am very comfortable with that. I have many words of praise for FC Porto since I arrived here.
It’s a different league, but they have taken me in since I arrived and I am very happy to have shared a lot of great moments with them. In the north [of Portugal] it’s Porto, Porto and Porto from when they are very young. It seems like this is instilled in them.
On reaching 100 UEFA Champions League appearances …
I never imagined I’d play 100 Champions League games. Looking back at it now, with this new perspective, I get a bit scared, because it means a lot of games, a lot of moments. It’s a difficult record to reach but, above all, I feel extremely proud to have won [the competition] three times and managed to stay in the Champions League for so long.
On his first call-up to the Real Madrid senior squad …
It’s a good anecdote because it was back in 1997 and I was in design class. We were talking about Real Madrid, about how they were doing at the time. It was late November, I think, and Real Madrid were struggling in the league. I think they were third or fourth and getting bad results, but things were going fine in the Champions League. They had an important game against Rosenborg coming up in Norway.
At that point, the high-school principal came into the classroom. Everyone knew I played in Real Madrid’s youth ranks. He used to talk to me about Real Madrid, just as I did with my friends. He said: “Iker, would you mind stepping outside for one second?”
“Sure,” I replied. When I came out, he told me: “You’d better get in a taxi now and hurry to Barajas [airport] because Real Madrid just phoned your mum and she has called us. You need to hurry up because you have to go to Norway.”
[It felt] like winning the lottery. I remember that moment very well. I was 16 years old. I left school, went home, changed my clothes, got in a taxi to Barajas, and I met all the stars – everything you thought impossible when you were a kid.
I went from being in class with my mate Julio to sitting at the same table as Fernando Morientes, Clarence Seedorf, Fernando Sanz, Predrag Mijatović, Davor Šuker and Raúl González. It was something magical and I will always remember that.
On coming on as a substitute in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final …
I wasn’t prepared to come on. I had always played with short sleeves because I felt more comfortable and free,and I wasn’t prepared. So the moment comes when I’m about to come on [for the injured César Sánchez]. I have to get off the bench, I don’t have my short sleeves, I’m unsettled and nervous because I don’t like to come on like that – especially in a final – and so I had to cut my sleeves. Javier Miñano, the strength and conditioning coach at Real Madrid, helped while Vicente Del Bosque was giving me some instructions on how to go about the match.
In the end we were lucky enough to win – my second Champions League title – against a Bayer Leverkusen side that had improved. People say that Bayer Leverkusen doesn’t seem like a great team but we’re talking about a team with Michael Ballack and Yildiray Baştürk, very good players at that time. They had eliminated Manchester United, Juventus, etc. I look back on it with a lot of happiness, and I was only 20 at the time.
It all happened very quickly, but in the end it was all very strange. I think it was the first time a keeper had to be substituted in a Champions League final.
On the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry …
You mature as a player with all the Clásicos there have been in Spain. It’s the most intense rivalry on earth. Of course there are derbies the world over but everything about Madrid-Barça is at the highest possible level because in the last few years the best players in the world have been at those two clubs.
We haven’t yet been able to see a Madrid-Barcelona Champions League final – I don’t think we’re ready for that yet. We’ve experienced something similar in other competitions such as the Copa Libertadores, but a Champions League final between Real Madrid and Barcelona could be very tough.
We’ve already seen Real Madrid v Atlético Madrid. I can imagine that [a Clásico as a] possible final, and it would be tough, but surely we’ll see it one day.