Casillas: For two years I’ve celebrated the day I was born again

Legend Iker Casillas looks on during the FIFA Legends Fan Interaction as part of the 68th FIFA Congress on June 11, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.

  • In May 2019 Casillas suffered a heart attack that has changed his life and priorities
  • The Spain and Madrid legend turns 40 today 20 May
  • He talks to about his concerns, new projects and cherished memories

“We footballers believe that, because we’re monitored more, we won’t suffer from heart problems. However, cases like mine, and others even more serious, show that unfortunately that’s not the case,” says Iker Casillas on what concerns him most today, his 40th birthday.

On 1 May 2019, his life was turned upside down. The 2010 world champion suffered a heart attack while training with his club Porto. That day everything changed for him and he had to leave behind what he loved most, playing football, bringing his motivation and enthusiasm to new projects instead.

To coincide with his 40th birthday, chatted to Casillas about these projects and reminisce about some of the key moments in his glittering career. Congratulations on your 40th birthday. How special is this day for you?

Iker Casillas: Thank you very much. My birthday has always been special, but for two years I’ve also celebrated the date I had a heart attack. That was the day I was born again.

That happened in 2019 and forced you to retire from football. Have your priorities and the way you view football changed?

The heart attack changed my life, of course. It forced me to leave behind what I loved the most, which was playing football, at a time when my enthusiasm for competing at the highest level was still intact.

Fortunately, life goes on, albeit with different priorities, and now I’m excited and busy during this phase of my life with my work at Real Madrid, my Foundation, La Liga as well as my business projects.

Can you tell us why you feel it’s important to raise awareness of heart disease and how this can save lives?

It is important to make everyone aware that heart disease can be detected and prevented, whether you’re a sportsperson or not. People should routinely have check-ups to avoid nasty scares.

I collaborate with various initiatives to support research projects. One that I’m especially proud of is a project with Idoven, a cardiological start-up that combines AI, wearable technology and cardiologists to prevent heart disease and sudden death through early detection.

How important is it for players to be aware that they too can suffer heart problems?

“We footballers believe that, because we’re monitored more, we won’t suffer from heart problems. However, cases like mine, and others even more serious, show that unfortunately that’s not the case. Elite sportspeople are more exposed due to the physical demands that require us to push our bodies closer to the limits. There are also moments of stress due to competitions that can increase the risk of these problems appearing.

Given all that, what do you treasure most from your career? Do you now place even greater store on what you did as a player?

I treasure everything because the good times were exceptionally good, while the not-so-good ones can make you even better. But my debut for Real Madrid, my first Champions League title, the two EUROs and, obviously, the South African World Cup are indelible memories.

You were a fundamental part of the golden age that changed Spanish football. What do you remember about EURO 2008 and your coach Luis Aragones?

The best memory is the atmosphere we had at that time in the squad. We were team-mates and friends. The group was tightknit and led by Aragones, who was the one who really imbued us with confidence and forced us to believe that we could achieve what we set out to do.

Then came the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. How do you remember the build-up to that and the expectations back home, given that you were going into it as European champions?

I remember us being confident. We had a tremendously strong group and a sense of solidarity. In short, we were a team in the real sense. Obviously after winning the EURO we went there as one of the favourites, which always brings added pressure and responsibility.

But you know you have the entire country behind you and that it’s up to everyone in the group to have the same goal. We believed we could become world champions for the first time in our history, and that gave us the mental strength and confidence that swept us to the title – though not without some moments of anguish.

You began that World Cup with a defeat to Switzerland. Aside from the 2-0 win over Honduras, all the other victories, including the Final, were by single goal margins…

We started poorly and finished strongly. We didn’t completely boss any game, but we were a very balanced side. We knew we’d always score and that we were hard to score against. That solidity across all our lines and always being in control of games was what made us sure of success.

The shot you saved from Robben, how Puyol congratulated you, your tears after Iniesta’s goal… What do you recall about those moments from the 2010 Final?

What I remember is that it wasn’t a goal! (Laughs) Everything happened very fast, but when I saw Robben racing towards me, it was as if time had slowed down, like slow motion. When he curled the ball, I managed to get my foot to it and deflect it wide. It’s a moment of play that will always be remembered.

As for Puyi, the truth is that I don’t really remember what he told me, because you’re experiencing many emotions at a time like that. I just remember he squeezed me hard. Andres’ goal had it all. The move began at the back with that galloping run down the flank by Navas. Iniesta picks it up and it ends up with Cesc, who finds Torres. He in turn tries to pick out Andres but his pass is cut out, only to fall again to Cesc, who this time finds Iniesta…

I remember it in slow motion, the moment he struck it, the minutes on the clock, and what that meant… After that it’s like an explosion; all the emotions that we’d been keeping in check rushed to the surface – a kind of collective madness…

Iker Casillas

Iker Casillas of Spain celebrates lifting the World Cup with team mates

Captain Iker Casillas of Spain lifts the trophy

Iker Casillas of Spain lifts the trophy

Iker Casillas of Real Madrid lifts the trophy

Iker Casillas of Real Madrid CF holds up the La Liga trophy

Iker Casillas of Spain applauds

Gianluigi Buffon of Italy embraces Iker Casillas of Spain (L)

Iker Casillas of Spain in action

Iker Casillas (C) of Spain lifts the trophy as he celebrates

Iker Casillas (R) and Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid celebrate

Iker Casillas kisses the Trophy during Spain’s FIFA World Cup victory parade

The circle closed with a 4-0 triumph over Italy in the final of EURO 2012, the biggest win in the history of European Championship deciders.

No team had ever won the final by so big a margin, but we still had a lot of respect for our opponents. Opposite me was Buffon, who is a friend and someone I admire, so part of you is in his shoes too.

At club level, you’ve done it all with Real Madrid. From being named in the squad for a first-team game in Norway when just 16 to becoming one of the club’s great captains and winning three Champions League titles… What do you remember most?

I remember everything as a kind of evolution. From the moment I was taken out of school for that Champions League game, I’ve experienced a career with ups and downs. The titles were very important, but for me the best moment was when I arrived at Real Madrid for the first time at the age of nine.

I made my first team debut very young in a match at La Cathedral (Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames stadium), a moment that will always stay with me. Then I went back to Castilla (Madrid’s reserve team). I then spent a season when Caesar [Sanchez] was first choice for the first team, but that kind of competition for places teaches you to be better and excel. Everything that happened to me, the good and the not so good, was necessary to get where I am.

Moments from Iker’s life in his words

“A first-team debut in a mythical stadium such as San Mames leaves its mark. It’s a magical moment.”
The significance of his debut for Real Madrid on 12 September 1999

“The turning point was the quarter-final against Italy. Finally, the curse of the quarters was consigned to history, and that generation of footballers were ready to do great things.”
On his first title with Spain at EURO 2008

“It’s the biggest title you can win with your national team, but it means so much more. I was honoured and proud to be captain at the time, but all my team-mates and all of Spain lifted that Cup with me. When we returned to Spain it really sunk in when we saw what a huge impact it had made.”
What the 2010 World Cup meant for Spain

“It was a validation of that generation’s dominance in world football. Spain had created a style, a model of play that had devotees all over the world and which enthralled fans.”
On the EURO 2012 title and closing the 2008-2010-2012 winning circle

“It was the best decision once my time as a Real Madrid player had come to an end. Porto is another of Europe’s big clubs, and it allowed me to continue competing at the highest level. We’ll always be grateful to them. The affection shown by the club and its fans helped us to quickly adapt to life there.”
On his move to Porto in the summer of 2015 News