An interesting transfer proposition has come Arsenal’s way. According to reports in Spain, Real Madrid icon Iker Casillas wants to cancel his contract at the Bernabeu, with the specific intention of joining the Gunners on a free transfer.
Arsene Wenger is already set to bolster his goalkeeping options this summer with the signing of Nice shot-stopper David Ospina, following his impressive World Cup campaign with Colombia. But widely considered to be one of the most talented and experienced ‘keepers in world football, acquiring Casillas’s signature is a rather different proposition.
Yet, despite the 33 year-old’s impressive track-record, I have my doubts over whether he would actually improve Arsenal.
Once again, you can’t question the Spain icon’s CV. In the space of 15 years, he’s claimed five La Liga titles and three Champions League titles with Real Madrid, as well as winning back-to-back European Championships with La Roja and the 2010 World Cup in between.
In terms of accumulating football’s greatest prizes, no goalkeeper playing today compares with Casillas, and at 33 there’s clearly still a few years left in the tank.
Yet, although Casillas’ reputation in his homeland literally verges upon saintly, those outside of Spain, including myself, have held a rather different opinion for some time.
The Spainiard’s World Cup campaign was riddled with fatal errors . He was by no means Spain’s biggest failing, they clearly entered the tournament with intrinsic flaws, but spectacular mistakes against the Netherlands and Chile further exacerbated his country’s woes. And it’s hardly the first time, despite a glittering career, Casillas’ composure, concentration and decision-making has been brought into question.
Likewise, his current situation with Los Blancos is incredibly revealing. Jose Mourinho dropped him after a bout of poor form midway through the 2012/13 campaign and replaced him with former understudy Diego Lopez, instead reserving ‘The Saint’ for cup competitions where admittedly, his experience and class continued to positively tell.
Many expected Lopez and Casillas to return to their previous standings upon the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti last summer, yet, like Mourinho, the Italian remained uncertain over the 33 year-old’s consistency.
All in all, Casillas received just two starts in La Liga last season. His regular action only coming in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. Of course, one can argue that Real Madrid have been in a unique situation of possessing two high quality ‘keepers, but another way of looking at it is that two managers – who come with some of the most coveted track records in European football – deemed Casillas a lesser No.1 than Diego Lopez.
My theory being that if the former wasn’t held in such high regard by the Madridian faithful and throughout Spain as a whole, both Mourinho and Ancelotti would have offloaded Casillas some time ago rather than creating a game-time sharing situation to accommodate him.
So although on paper Arsenal may be getting a World Cup, European Championship, La Liga and Champions League winner, in practice they are receiving a goalkeeper that has been deemed expendable by the Madrid management for the last 18 months. And it’s not as if the European elite have been queueing up for Lopez’s signature either.
One could further argue Casillas hasn’t been at his best since his mid-twenties – even Spain’s 2010 World Cup campaign was a rather easy ride, considering the quality in front of him and La Roja’s domineering style of play.
Similarly, spare a thought for Wojceich Szczesny. The Poland international has suffered turbulent form in the past; to be dropped for Arsenal’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich during the 2012/13 campaign must have been an incredibly humbling, individual low.
But last season, the Gunners No.1 was in impressive, consistent form. Of course, the sensational efforts of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscienly have to be considered, but Szczesny finished the campaign with the joint-most clean sheets of any Premier League ‘keeper at 16. Likewise, as of the end of April, his shots-to-saves ratio stood at 65%, just 3% shy of eventual PFA Team of the Year member Petr Cech. Overall, of all Premier League ‘keepers that featured more than sporadically last season, the Pole ranked eighth on this front.
It’s long forgotten that Szczesny is just 24 years of age, and due to a lack of senior goalkeepers at the Emirates has been forced to learn on the job. Put into that context, although Szczesny has been singled out by the Arsenal faithful at times, the improvement he’s shown over the last three campaigns has been tremendous. But Iker Casillas’ north London arrival would stall that development rather bluntly and, in my opinion at least, unjustifiably.
On the surface, Casillas may seem like a consummate acquisition – the kind of player who could bring Arsenal closer to a parallel with Chelsea and Manchester City. But in truth, I fear the Spain international is not the world-class goalkeeper he’s often billed as, or at least hasn’t been for some time.
It’s also worth pointing out that at 6 foot 1 and from a top flight where goalies are rarely tested to the same degree aerially, the Real Madrid veteran is not what you’d describe as a natural fit for the Premier League.
Furthermore and most importantly, Arsene Wenger has shown a continual refrain from blocking the paths of young players with senior signings, and although the goalkeeping department could understandably be the exception to the rule, I believe he should extend that privilege to Wojciech Szczesny too.
Perhaps a controversial decision to some, but in my opinion, the Arsenal manager would be wise not to offer Casillas an exit route to the Emirates this summer.