Iker Casillas strolls nonchalantly through the area earmarked for TV interviews, stops, greets a few people and smiles. In recent months he has looked happier than at any point in the previous two seasons. It is as if he belongs between the sticks for Real Madrid again and when everything works out like it did on Tuesday evening in Marrakech, how can his face not light up?
Score-settling is not on the agenda for the rejuvenated veteran, however: "I don't think I have anything to prove – what I've done in my career is there for everyone to see. By playing games I'll hopefully get my confidence back to where it used to be, which is what excites me more than anything. I feel on a high," the goalkeeper told FIFA.com after another morale-boosting performance in the 4-0 win over Cruz Azul in the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014.
This was a result in keeping with the tone of the Madrid giants' swashbuckling 21-match winning streak, but one in which they were also grateful to Casillas, who stopped Gerardo Torrado's penalty – his 15th spot-kick save for the club – with the score at 2-0 to prevent the Mexicans getting back into the game.
"If it had gone to 2-1, it might have been a whole different ball game. Goalies always try to help their team at crunch moments like that. Luckily I dived the right way and I'm happy because the team were able to relax and see it out comfortably."
The rest of the squad are quick to acknowledge the custodian's role: "Iker is a great keeper and he always comes through for us when we need him, so it'd be a pleasure to help him win this tournament," noted Brazilian full-back Marcelo. If he comes out on top in Saturday's final, it will mark Casillas's 23rd trophy for club and country. Indeed, this is one of the few competitions he has never tasted glory in before.
"I played in this tournament 14 years ago, but I wasn't able to win it," the shot-stopper reminisced, looking back to the 2000 edition, when Real Madrid finished fourth. He was just 19 at the time. "I hope to win the title now because it would mean another photo for the history books, both for Madrid and for me personally. There's nothing more satisfying for a player than bringing more joy to this club."
Changing fortunesStringing together 21 wins on the bounce is another source of pride and cause for high spirits, but Casillas is eager not to get carried away: "Winning 21 games in a row is very difficult, but we have to keep our feet on the ground and be mindful that this run won't last forever. One day a defeat or draw will come, but we're not thinking beyond Saturday's match and getting win number 22. What's important is for us to win on Saturday because if we don't, I can guarantee you that all the headlines in the papers will look different."
The 33-year-old speaks from experience. Having been the darling of the fans, the press and – give or take the odd moment out of favour – his coaches since bursting on to the scene aged 18 in 1999, the club captain has learned all about the whims of fortune over the last two seasons. After being dropped by Jose Mourinho in January 2013, he was restricted to just 26 appearances in the 2012/13 campaign, while Carlo Ancelotti handed him only 24 starts last term. On the back of a poor 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, this season did not look to be shaping up too promisingly, especially with Costa Rican World Cup sensation Keylor Navas brought in. As it is, Casillas has featured in 21 of the 25 fixtures for which he has been available.
The goalkeeper is taking this return to prominence in his stride. In his words, "I never let my head drop so they can write me off and I'm not going to puff my chest out now. I simply work hard and try to do my best." Nevertheless, there are some reactions you cannot help and Casillas's smile speaks volumes.