It was the final night of UEFA Champions League season 2001-2002 that the rivalry between Iker Casillas and César Sánchez exploded.
César Sánchez was ten years older than Iker Casillas, and definitely, he was brought in Real Madrid in order to create a competition against the youngster graduating from La Castilla academy. The youngster got his first showcase in the UEFA Champions League in the season of 1998-1999 when Real Madrid made it over the Italian giant Juventus in the final game. But 3 seasons later, young Casillas struggled with being consistent and he lost his position to the hand of a veteran, Sánchez.
However, the former captain of Real Madrid assured that even if Sánchez was a good goalkeeper, the player from La Castilla could even do better.
“I remember that the club had signed César but he was out on loan at Valladolid. I kept progressing too, game by game. I knew that he would be coming back, but deep inside I wasn’t afraid. If he played brilliantly for Real Madrid, then I would want to do even better,” he said.
And Casillas has finally turned out to do better than his veteran teammates. Sánchez had an opportunity to start in the final of UEFA Champions League season 2001-2002, but the veteran player suffered from an injury and was replaced by Casillas. The rest of that game was the showcase of Casillas.
He was the man of the match despite the beautiful volley of Zinedine Zidane and saved the team from several dangerous situation. Los Blancos was the one who lifted the trophy in the end, and it thanks to the outstanding performance of Casillas in the goal.
After the night in Glasgow, Casillas once again stepped up to take the goalkeeper position of Real Madrid while Sánchez became the second choice of the squad. He then transferred to Zaragoza, Tottenham Hotspurs, Valencia, and Villareal before announcing the retirement.
Personally, when Casillas looked back at the rivalry between him and his veteran teammate, he confessed that “it was not a healthy competition.” But in the end, it was a good rivalry that pushed both of them to the next stage of development.
“That competitiveness we had is all in the past now. But the best thing that could have happened to me was to have to compete with César. It made me mature very quickly, he was 10 years older than me. It wasn’t a healthy competition, but it was very good competition,” Casillas said. “I was a little afraid of César. He had enjoyed several good seasons at Valladolid. But as it turned out, Madrid won the Champions League and a young lad like me lifted the European Cup”.
Casillas also admitted that he did not have a good relationship with Sánchez, but it was not because he was “evil”. He denied that he created pressure to make Sánchez leave the club.
“I am aware that he was having a rough time but I didn’t feel as though I had done something wrong to get him out of the team,” he said.
In the end, it was not an easy fight for Sánchez and Casillas at all. Both goalkeepers are talented and deserved a chance to display for the most successful club in the history of UEFA Champions League.
When César Sánchez has a chance to shared what he thought about the final night of UEFA Champions League season 2001-2002, he said that he wouldn’t change anything.
“If I were able to change anything from that night, I wouldn’t want to – I would get injured in exactly the same minute,” Sánchez said.
Ultimately, the rivalry perhaps is just the not-going-well relationship. It is not really a rivalry that makes Casillas or Sánchez hate each other. It was an unhealthy competition but it was a good motivation for both goalkeepers.