It wasn't his name that made Real Madrid sign their one-time youth product as successor to Iker Casillas: Joe Walker explains the hard path Kiko Casilla has taken to the top.
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Signed today by Real Madrid, Kiko Casilla's career has gone full circle as he rejoins his boyhood club. While the goalkeeper, who has agreed a five-year deal with the Merengues, has an uncannily similar surname to the man he is replacing in Iker Casillas, he has taken a very different career path. UEFA.com finds out exactly who is Kiko Casilla.
Name: Francisco 'Kiko' Casilla
Date of birth: 2 October 1986
Clubs: Real Madrid Castilla, Espanyol B, Cádiz (loan), Cartagena (loan), Espanyol, Real Madrid
They say ...
"Espanyol have been very lucky to have Casilla. He's an honest pro. When you've get a chance like this, you take it with your eyes closed. When an offer of that level comes in, it's obvious you're going to go"
Espanyol coach Sergio González on Casilla and the chance to join Real Madrid
He says ...
"I didn't know anything. There were a load of people in front of me throwing water on me and all sorts. That's how it was and I was speechless. It's an incredible experience to be with people who have won the World Cup, the UEFA EURO, and have played 300 games in the Liga."
Casilla on being called up to the Spain squad for the first time in August 2014
Born in Alcover, Catalonia, Casilla left local club Gimnàstic de Tarragona aged 13 in 1999 to become part of Real Madrid's youth set-up. After graduating to the second team, Castilla, the custodian would grow frustrated, making just five outings before joining Espanyol in 2007. After playing four Liga games during his first term back in Catalonia, he was loaned to third-division Cádiz between 2008 and 2010 before spending the 2010/11 campaign with second-tier Cartagena.
It was not until season 2013/14 – when he turned 27 – that he fully established himself as Espanyol's No1, only reaching 100 top-flight matches in February this year – which makes his return to the 2014 UEFA Champions League winners all the more remarkable. Now he has the chance to finally make his Madrid debut eight years after leaving.
It is not unusual to see him tower above defences and claim crosses, with his aerial ability one of his strongest points. In addition, he is a more than capable shot-stopper, possessing strong reflexes and the suppleness to get down low, something reflected in the fact he has made more saves (209) than any other custodian during the past two Liga campaigns.
Despite representing Spain at Under-19 and U21 levels, it seemed Casilla might never make his debut for La Roja given the surfeit of goalkeeping talent available to coach Vicente del Bosque. Yet, following two earlier calll-ups, his club form was eventually rewarded by Del Bosque on 18 November 2014 when he made his first – and to date only – appearance for Spain in a 1-0 friendly defeat by Germany, as a 77th-minute substitute for Casillas. Unfortunately for Casilla, his future club-mate Toni Kroos scored the only goal past him from long range in the last minute.