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When you play for Real Madrid CF, the past can sometimes be a millstone around the neck. So it is that, as Iker Casillas reflects on the nine-time winners' failure since 2004 to get past the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, the word "trauma" crops up in his conversation.
The goalkeeper, whose team visit AFC Ajax on Tuesday having already booked progress from UEFA Champions League Group G, told UEFA.com: "It has stuck in our heads like a little trauma, but this has happened to the players – me more than anyone – who have been here a few years. I've experienced and suffered this situation but the new, young players have their own experiences with previous clubs, so it's not necessarily something the squad as a whole think about. It's more the club which has suffered this setback in the last six years."
Casillas's view that former woes need not worry Madrid's 2010/11 vintage is lent weight by their results under José Mourinho, with three wins and a draw ensuring a knockout berth, the 29-year-old believes Mourinho has freshened things up at the Santiago Bernabéu. "The arrival of Mourinho also meant the arrival of new players – young players with a lot of talent, who want to do things right, have a lot of hope and are very committed. It's like a renewal."
The new guard includes German internationals Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil, who, Casillas predicts, will become "top players in the world". He added: "Mesut and Sami are serious boys who have tried to integrate as quickly as possible. It's not easy for them as they speak a different language and it's difficult to learn a new one, but the team have supported them as much as possible to help them settle. The team are acting like a family, laughing a lot and taking care of each other, particularly the younger lads."
If the new-look Madrid have to meet the "highest demands", Spanish international Casillas reckons they are "on the right path", saying: "We have the right combination to become a great team. But you only get the continuity, the maturity and the experience you need by playing games."
A FIFA World Cup winner with Spain in July, Casillas overtook Oliver Kahn as the goalkeeper with the most UEFA Champions League appearances after his 104th outing against AC Milan on Matchday 3. He was still at school when first involved in Madrid's squad for a game and just 18 when he debuted in the competition in a 3-3 draw at Olympiacos FC in September 1999, replacing the injured Bodo Illgner.
Ending that campaign with a clean sheet in the final win over Valencia CF provided his "nicest memory". He recalls: "I had just turned 19 and to play in such a massive final after having to step in for the No1 keeper was amazing." The goal now is to help Madrid's new generation experience something similar.
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