It all began when, as a promising 16-year-old understudy to Santiago Canizares, he was plucked from the obscurity of a Madrid classroom and bundled on a plane bound for the chilly climes of Norway.

A decade on from that UEFA Champions League tie away to Rosenborg and Iker Casillas has amassed a haul of silverware the like of which most players can only dream about. And yet, despite lifting two Spanish league and two UEFA Champions League titles, a brace of Spanish and UEFA European Super Cups and a Toyota Intercontinental Cup, not to mention the European U-21 Player of the Year award in 2000, the intrepid Iker has steadfastly refused to let success go to his head.

The responsibilities that come with a career at the top may have made him mature fast, but Casillas has lost nothing of his youthful spontaneity. The task of keeping goal for a club with the global stature of  Real Madrid  is one he approaches with the same refreshing candour and directness as he does the captaincy of the national side, with whom he has already appeared at two FIFA World Cup™ finals and two UEFA European Championships.

In an exclusive interview, gauged the keeper's views on life with La Selección and the Merengues. And as you might expect, Iker is as commanding and authoritative in front of the microphone as he is in the penalty box.  

Do you think last Wednesday's win over England in Manchester could prove a turning point for Spain?
Well, at least it's given us some breathing space. People aren't talking about the national side so much now and what they are saying is positive, so that's good. Losing to [Northern] Ireland and Sweden sparked a lot of debate, especially after getting knocked out in the last 16 of the World Cup when everyone expected us to go much further. In the build-up to the England game everyone was focusing on the doom and gloom surrounding the national side rather than the chance to get the fans behind us again.

What was the feeling in the dressing room after the game?
We were pretty relieved because we knew the press were on top of us and the fans too. When we win, everyone's happy and excited and that's great for the players.

How do you rate Spain's chances of reaching the UEFA EURO 2008?
It's difficult but not impossible. We've had some unexpected slip-ups. Sweden away is the kind of game you can lose sometimes, but we really shouldn't be losing away to Northern Ireland. We can't afford to make any more mistakes now, and we've got to focus really hard on all the games we have left. Another defeat and that could be it.

Although you are only 25, you have already played 66 times for your country and appeared in two FIFA World Cup finals. You made your league debut for Real Madrid in 1999/2000 and have enjoyed a hugely successful club career since then. Do you get overwhelmed by it all sometimes?
When you put it like that, yes (laughs). But when I'm training day in day out and playing matches I don't really think about it. The funny thing is, when I see 16-year-olds playing I think it's crazy because they're too young, but then again I was that age when they called me for the first time. That's just how things turned out for me, and I'm delighted with the way my career has gone. 

The only club trophy you have missed out on so far is the Copa del Rey. Having won so many things, what kind of objectives do you set yourself now?
I set myself new targets every season. I want to win things with Spain and I want to pick up more titles with my club. I'm ambitious. I'd love to win another league title, another Champions League, the Copa del Rey. I want to win everything.

The Champions League returns in a few days time, and you face an intriguing tie with Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu. Do you think you can beat them?
Well, we're going through a tricky patch at the moment. Our league form is up and down and we lack consistency. Even so, we're in the top four and there's only a few points between us all. The thing is, we know Bayern aren't playing that well either, not that that matters in these types of games. You just never know what's going to happen.

A lot of players say league form does not really matter when it comes to the Champions League because it's a different competition entirely.
Yes, it's an amazing competition because it's all or nothing over 180 minutes. The world just seems to stop for these games. The atmosphere, the stadium, everything is different, and let's hope the outcome's different too.

Real Madrid have managed just a single draw in their last four visits to Bayern in the competition.
That just shows you that the first leg at home is vital. It's essential we don't concede any goals and I think the team's doing pretty well in that respect. We're solid at the back, but we need to make sure we don't give any goals away because that will give us an advantage when we go over there.

There have been quite a few changes at the back this season. How do you feel about the defence in front of you right now?
The team's been pretty good at the back despite all the changes. We've got the second-best defensive record in the league and although there's room for improvement, as there is with any team, I'm happy. We've let in three or four goals at set-pieces so that's not bad. I'm not complaining (laughs). 

Now that the transfer window has closed once more do you think the team will settle down again?
There's always a lot of uncertainty during the January transfer window. Some people leave and others are looking for a new club to go to. Things are definitely calmer now and we can start concentrating on the last few months of the season.

The team has been getting a lot of criticism in the press and the fans have been voicing their discontent at the Bernabeu. How is the dressing room handling it?
I haven't got a problem so long as people are being constructive, criticising a particular tactic, a misplaced pass or a mistake. That's fine by me. But when people start being nasty, that's different. The team won't take that kind of thing and we'll always stand up for ourselves in those situations.

What do you need to do to get back on track in the league and get the fans behind you?
A bit of everything really. Above all we need some luck in front of goal and to create more chances. The Bernabeu always responds when the team gets stuck in and gives everything.

Are you happy with the season so far?
No, not at all. We've lost a lot of games and dropped a lot of points at home. We're up there but we can do a lot better.

Despite all the criticism, you are one of the most popular and respected players in the eyes of the fans? Why do you think that is?
That's something that makes me very happy and proud because people obviously see how hard I work. If they really knew me, though, perhaps they'd be disappointed (laughs).