Mourinho vs. Casillas: Mudslinging headed for messy conclusion

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

You'd be forgiven for thinking the Santiago Bernabeu hosted a boxing match on Saturday night, and not a La Liga match between Real Madrid and Real Valladolid.

Los Blancos bounced back from their Champions League exit against Dortmund with a 4-3 win in a seven-goal thriller against the Pucela in the Spanish capital, but with the game being as close to a "dead rubber" as you will get, the talk after the match focused on the continued spat between manager Jose Mourinho and shunted goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

The Portuguese manager certainly won't be leaving the Bernabeu quietly. Friday's prematch news conference was epic, with Mourinho failing to resist another little dig at Casillas, who has been dropped to the bench since Christmas.

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-Pepe supports Casillas

"Would I do anything differently if I had the chance to do the past three years over again?" Mourinho said in response to one question. "I should have brought in Diego Lopez after my first year. We didn't do enough to sign him. It's a real shame."

Lopez has been Madrid's preferred starter since his arrival from Sevilla in January and has performed well. Casillas had already been dropped before Lopez's arrival, with Antonio Adan tried in goal before Mourinho dipped into the transfer market.

Lopez's performances have not been questioned by Madrid fans -- indeed, his good showings have helped keep a tight lid on criticism of Mourinho dropping a Madrid fan favourite. Instead, it's the lack of respect Madrid fans and players seem to think the boss has shown Casillas that is the issue.

That criticism from fans, "Ultras" aside, could have come a lot sooner had Mourinho gotten his way and signed Lopez after his first year in control at the club, as he wanted. Plenty of what-ifs branch out from that one.

Most of the players, as you would expect, have not gone public in siding with Casillas and criticising Mourinho.

Pepe, however, bucked that trend immediately after the victory over Valladolid, saying: "There needs to be a little more respect to Iker. Iker is well-loved. What the coach said was not the most appropriate. Iker is a player who is part of Madrid. He's an institution, both in this club and in Spain."

This is Pepe, a player who not only shared the same agent as Mourinho but has been "onside" with his manager, unlike plenty of others, since they've been working together. A player who, despite many doubts, won the trust of Mourinho to play a key role in big Clasico matches against Barcelona, in La Liga and the Champions League.

It will be interesting, therefore, to see if Pepe features for Madrid again this season. Mourinho did his prematch back-slapping in the Bernabeu tunnel before Saturday night's match -- until Casillas walked through and was duly snubbed. Pepe may well wonder if he will suffer the same fate in the coming matches.

After the match, Mourinho's assistant, Aitor Karanka, hit back at Pepe. "It would be a lack of respect to 25 teammates if you selected someone who was not in a condition to play," he said. "The lack of respect would have been to select a player who wasn't right, instead of another."

Casillas may well be the first to admit he wasn't performing at 100 percent at the start of this season, whether that be due to simply a dip in form or other matters yet to be known. However, that form -- from an experienced World Cup, Champions League and European Championships keeper -- did not seem too concerning given the levels the captain usually achieves.

It's been clear for months that all is not well between Mourinho and Casillas, and the manager's departure cannot come soon enough for "Saint Iker," who will be counting down the minutes until the end of the season. If I were a betting man, we'll see Casillas back as Madrid's No. 1 next season.

I'd also bet on plenty more mudslinging, from all sides, to occur between now and the end of the season. There's never a dull moment at the Bernabeu.

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