After a decade without giving a single thought as to who would start in goal for Real Madrid, the 10-time European Champions have found the No.1 jersey a tricky one to fill in recent seasons.
The name of Iker Casillas was almost pre-written onto every Madrid teamsheet between 2002 and 2012. Cesar briefly sent the recently departed shot-stopper to the bench in 2002 before Jose Mourinho infamously dropped the club legend 10 years later. It started the beginning of the end of Casillas' highly decorated time in the Spanish capital. All that came between was "San Iker" and a whole host of trophies.
The final chapter was long and drawn out, but the final farewell came last week. It was emotional and controversial, but it was necessary. The signs were that Casillas' powers were on the wane, but the unfortunate stigma that was attached to him after Mourinho dropped him for "technical reasons" in a Liga match at Malaga in December 2012 was too much. He needed to leave for his own good and the club's.
The expectation was that David De Gea would come in as Casillas' long-term replacement at the Santiago Bernabeu. It seemed natural, with the Manchester United goalkeeper gently easing the Madrid man out at international level and De Gea still having his best years ahead of him. He is out of contract next summer and the signs are that he wants to return to the Spanish capital, even if he has kept his thoughts to himself.
Today, Real Madrid are in Melbourne enjoying the start to their pre-season while De Gea and United are across the pond on the west coast of the United States, doing their own preparations in Seattle for the forthcoming campaign. The difference is more than 8,000 miles and a deal to bring the 24-year-old to the Bernabeu this summer seems little closer.
With that in mind, Madrid have welcomed former youth product Kiko Casilla back to the club for a fee of €6 million from Espanyol. It all points towards De Gea remaining at Old Trafford for another season and Madrid being able to pick up a player they crave for nothing next summer. United may be keen to keep the former Atletico Madrid man this season but they will lose out a year from now.
Financially, it makes sense, though from a purely footballing point of view the decision to bring in Casilla, and raid Espanyol for a second time this summer after welcoming Lucas Vazquez back from the Catalan club, means question marks will remain over such a crucial position on the pitch. Bringing De Gea in now instead of next summer would have put a tick next to the goalkeeping box potentially for the next decade. It would have brought a chance to move on.
Let's get one thing straight, Casilla is a good goalkeeper and has rightly earned a shot at playing at a higher level than Espanyol. The 28-year-old was a late bloomer, even at the Cornella-El Prat, but his performances over the last couple of seasons have caught attention. Madrid were said to be interested in signing him last summer but instead went for Keylor Navas, perhaps with his performances for Costa Rica at the World Cup stacking things in his favour.
Casilla has enjoyed good performances against Madrid, ensuring his former club know all about him first hand, and is widely acknowledged as one of La Liga's better goalkeepers. His shot-stopping and aerial abilities mark him out. At 6-3, he has the height that president Florentino Perez likes, if the comments of Casillas' mother in El Mundo last weekend are anything to go by. The former Espanyol man is taller than Casillas and the same height as Gianluigi Buffon.
Vicente del Bosque is a fan, having called him up to the Spanish national side. Ironically, when he was called up on Aug. 29, 2014, he acted as third choice behind Casillas and De Gea. When he was handed his debut three months later in a friendly against Germany in Vigo, new teammate Toni Kroos hit the winner against him in a 1-0 victory for the world champions.
Casilla says his move back to the Spanish capital was one he could not miss out on and has penned a five-year contract. However, it would be a surprise to see him as a starter beyond the end of the forthcoming campaign. Madrid may be putting a move for De Gea on hold, but a betting man would fancy a hefty sum on him being presented at the Bernabeu a year from now.
All that means is more doubts and more questions in goal over the forthcoming season. Not just over if and when De Gea will arrive, but over who will be given the nod to start next season by Rafa Benitez. Casilla arrives as a strong goalkeeper, but he will compete for the No.1 shirt with a player who is equally as good in Navas. If De Gea does come in a year from now, who remains?
Indeed, Navas was named as La Liga's best goalkeeper the season before he arrived in the Spanish capital from Levante. He ensured the Valencia club had the fifth best defensive record in the entire division in the 2013-14 campaign and it was no surprise that Levante started to leak goals left, right and centre after he departed. His performances on the biggest stage of all in Brazil last summer rubber-stamped his qualities to a wider audience.
It was perhaps comprehensible, if not agreeable, that Navas played second fiddle to Casillas last season, but after his move to Porto and seemingly no sign of De Gea this summer, the Costa Rican would have been right to feel he should be trusted with a regular starting role in the coming campaign.
Navas hardly shone last season, but he was only given a starting role in Madrid's more comfortable matches, meaning he hardly even had a touch of the ball, let alone saves to make. His error against Espanyol late in the season stood out, too, but with the background of Casillas' uncertainty, the whistles and a relatively poor season for the club in general, it was hard for Navas to find momentum to make a claim for the No.1 spot on a regular basis.
The forthcoming season should be his opportunity, especially after Benitez made special mention of the shot-stopper immediately after his arrival. Navas dropped out of the Costa Rica squad competing in the Gold Cup due to injury and is part of Madrid's pre-season tour with the aim of impressing his new boss. Now he has some competition.
Competition, of course, is good, and Madrid now have two good goalkeepers competing for a starting role and both seemingly have an equal chance to make that role theirs. The fear is that the competition will come to nothing a year from now and both will be using this campaign as a shop window for moving on next season. The fear is also that the constant talk of De Gea's arrival will leave another big shadow over the goalkeeping issue. And there is, of course, still a chance that De Gea could arrive in this transfer window.
Casillas, Antonio Adam, Diego Lopez, Navas and now Casilla. The No.1 shirt has been passed around the Bernabeu fairly frequently in recent seasons and it shows no signs of slowing down just yet. In Casilla, Madrid have a goalkeeper who has earned a shot at the big time but a goalkeeper who looks set to be another temporary fix rather than a long-term measure.