The 2012/13 season was an unusual one for Iker Casillas. After suffering a hand injury at the turn of this year, the 32-year-old goalkeeper lost his place in the first team at Real Madrid and found himself out in the cold for nearly five months. It was an unprecedented situation for the iconic Spain captain, who had, until then, been Real's undisputed No1.
Casillas returned to action against Uruguay in La Roja's opening match at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013. The experienced goalkeeper has more international caps than any other player at this year's competition – a competition that Spain tried in vain to win four years ago.
Ahead of his side's upcoming semi-final against Italy, Casillas spoke to FIFA.com about his difficult past season, as well as his hopes for Spain at Brazil 2013 and beyond.
FIFA.com: What was it like to return to the starting line-up after so long without playing? Is it true that it felt like a second debut?
Iker Casillas: It's partly true. It wasn't a completely new feeling, but it was certainly different. When you've been out for five months, it takes a while to get everything straight in your head. Luckily my coach and team-mates have treated me extremely well, because that’s important when you're finding your way back. For goalkeepers, confidence comes from games and minutes. So whenever someone gives you an opportunity or shows faith in you, it always gives you a boost.
How important, then, was your first touch of the ball against Uruguay?
Your first touch nearly always decides how the rest of your game will turn out. That first bit of contact helps your confidence, and I honestly felt good and comfortable, although I knew I'd be under a lot of scrutiny. Because of that, I tried to step back from it all and focus purely on doing my best, and on working with my team to win the game.
After each of Spain's recent triumphs, you've been there in all the photos, wearing the captain's armband and holding the trophy aloft. Did you fear, at any stage last season, that you might never experience anything like that again?
Obviously, when your doctor tells you that you've got a broken hand, you start to have one or two doubts. Luckily, though, my recovery was quicker than anticipated. I knew that if I wasn't playing for my club, it would be difficult to get back into the national team. But Vicente [Del Bosque] followed my progress very closely, and fortunately my hand has healed amazingly well. I'd even say it's better than before! (laughs).
On your return, however, you found yourself in the unusual position of having to sit on the bench at Real Madrid. How did you deal with that period?
By thinking of the team and wanting what's best for Real Madrid. I cried, suffered, felt bad and had nights where I slept little, if at all. I'm a Madridista through and through, and before everyone else – coaches, presidents, directors of football, even myself – the club always comes first.
During that time, you received many public messages of support. Were there any that particularly stood out?
No. But a lot of people helped me deal with being injured, which was a situation I'd never experienced before. I always try to be respectful. When you're not playing, as was the case with me, you have to accept it, work hard, be patient and keep going. It's no big deal.
Did you ever consider leaving Real Madrid?
I would love to finish my career at Real Madrid. But I would not cause a scene if, one day, a coach were to come along and decide he doesn't need me. Only then would I look elsewhere. And I repeat: Real is my priority. This club has given me everything, and it's thanks to them that I'm wearing this Spain shirt today.
Speaking of the national team, and with the Italy game coming up, how important is it for Spain to win the FIFA Confederations Cup?
It's extremely important, because if Spain don't reach the final, the critics will say we're not the team we were before. If we win, it'll be business as usual. We've created this pressure for ourselves over the past few years, but we know we have to keep enjoying it. This team never gets tired of playing football, and always wants to win. I think we're the major power at the moment, but there may well come a time when it's difficult for us to keep repeating the success.
Is the responsibility to win this competition any different to how it was four years ago, in South Africa?
This team is nothing like the one from four years ago. Yes, we had just won the EURO, but our success had come as a surprise to many people. Back then I don't think even we understood the role we had played in it all. Obviously, once you've won a World Cup, your mentality and responsibilities change. I'm not saying we now feel superior every time we play. But we do believe that, with our way of playing, we can achieve great things. We absolutely want to win it, as doing so would mean this generation has won every title possible.
With that in mind, do you think Brazil 2014 could mark the end of an era for Spanish football?
We're lucky that our young players are winning titles. Vicente [Del Bosque] has always brought U-21 players through to the senior side, putting them in the spotlight and giving them playing time so that, eventually, they're able to take over from the older guys. It's true that time waits for no man. Some players will soon be turning 30, and there are already a few thirtysomethings! (laughs). Some of us will choose to carry on, others won't, depending on how we feel physically and mentally. And some might just get tired of seeing the same old faces. Spanish football needn't worry, though: the new players coming through are good enough to compete and win titles.
Finally, would you say you're feeling happy again?
Yes, I really have got my happiness back. It's always difficult when you find yourself in a situation you've never experienced before. It hasn't been easy, but now I've turned the corner, I'm a different Iker Casillas.