Ahead of the international friendly between Wales and Spain, FAW.Cymru takes a look at a footballing connection that link the two nations,featuring legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas, the most capped player in the history of the Spanish national team, and how it was John Toshack who gave him his first opportunity to impress during his time as manager of Real Madrid.
Wales v Spain
INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE MATCH
- Thursday, 11 October 2018
- Principality Stadium, Cardiff
- Kick off: 7.45pm
- Coverage: Sky Sports & S4C
- Supporter Information: Click here
Former Wales striker and manager John Toshack took charge of Real Madrid for a second time in 1999, and quickly promoted a highly-rated teenage goalkeeper called Iker Casillas from the youth team to the senior side. “I saw Casillas during an international break when there were only about three senior players left,” said Toshack in 2010.
“They were playing in an 11-a-side game with the youth players. It was a hot, sunny day and we were almost yawning with boredom on the sidelines. Then, suddenly, Casillas made a stunning reflex stop from six yards, got up and dived across his goal to also keep out the rebound. Who is this, I thought to myself? He was a teenage rookie, but I saw something in him that day in training which made me leap out of my seat.
“I decided pretty much there and then I was going to give him his debut against Athletic Bilbao. People went on about the other more experienced goalkeepers we had on our books, but I wasn’t convinced by them. His debut was in Basque territory away to Athletic Bilbao. Believe me, that’s a hotbed of a venue for any Real Madrid team.”
Despite some early errors leading many to question Toshack's judgement, the teenage Casillas quickly established himself as the number one for both club and country, and would stay there for the best part of the next 15 years. Claiming almost 20 major honours during his time with the club from the Spanish capital, Casillas would become one of the all-time greats at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“I’m obviously delighted to see the strides Casillas has made,” added Toshack, long after his dismissal from the Real Madrid job. “Seeing what he has done clearly gives me enormous satisfaction, particularly when you think back to people questioning my judgement at the time. As well as being a terrific shot-stopper, Casillas was always a level-headed individual who was keen to improve.”
But it was on the international stage that Casillas enjoyed his greatest moments, captaining Spain to European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012, and lifting the FIFA World Cup in 2010. He is a figure that defines a golden age for Spanish international football, and he remains the most-capped player ever for the national team with 167 appearances to his name.
Of course, it was Toshack who again put faith in youth when he returned as manager of Wales for a second time in 2004. Fast-tracking the likes of Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey through the intermediate setup, the teenage stars earned valuable experience ahead of their years, even though Toshack himself would not remain in post long enough to reap the rewards.
Meanwhile, the club career of Iker Casillas continues to this day with Portuguese giants Porto, and the 37-year old has now made over 1,000 professional appearances for club and country since being handed his debut by Toshack over two decades ago. “I knew we had something special on our hands, and I was sticking by him,” Toshack added.
Ironically, Casillas lifted his last European trophy with Real Madrid in Toshack's home town of Cardiff, as two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo earned the Spanish giants a 2-0 win over Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup in 2014. There was no doubt a wry smile from his former boss as he reflected on that hot and sunny international break back in 1999.