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[personal profile] flywoman
This year, two of my favorite players are leaving their childhood clubs behind. Iker Casillas Fernandez, age 34, has been a goalkeeper for the first team at Real Madrid since 1999 and team captain for five years. Xavi Hernandez Creus, age 35, made his first team debut as a midfielder for FC Barcelona in 1998 and was captain this past season, when his team won all three major tournaments for the second time in Spanish history.

Despite the intense rivalry of their respective clubs, these two men have been friends since they met as teenagers. At times, their mutual esteem and affection have been the glue that holds the Spanish national team together, allowing them to win two European Cups and Spain's only World Cup between 2008 and 2012. Even the Prince of Asturias has recognized this OTP.

Xavi has chosen to leave FC Barcelona to play for Al Sadd in Qatar, mostly for the money - as he has admitted in interviews, the economic crisis in Spain has hit his family's business hard. But he got the farewells - from a stadium full of FC Barcelona fans, and from his teammates at his press conference - that his long years of illustrious service deserved.

This was Iker's farewell.* Even if you don't understand a word, the contrast is striking, no? Iker is not leaving because of financial hardship. He is leaving because ever since Jose Mourinho benched him because he was threatened by his popularity, Iker has struggled to maintain form, has been widely criticized by fans and in the press, and has felt the lack of support from his own club. Of course, he is too much of a gentleman to say so.

Guess who isn't? Never a man to keep his mouth shut when he perceives injustice in football, Xavi proceeded to publish a column in La Vanguardia in which he lambasted fickle fans for treating his BFF like shit. I won't translate all of it, but here are a few choice quotes:

"Conocí a Iker en el Mundial de Egipto sub-17 y congeniamos enseguida. Éramos unos críos, pero ya nos parecíamos. Nos gustaba vacilarnos y yo siempre he tenido debilidad por la gente rápida de mente. El paso de los años no ha cambiado a Iker, siempre que me preguntan por él contesto lo mismo: 'Este es muy buena gente.'

Por eso me sabe mal lo que está pasando con él. En los últimos años he visto que no disfrutaba como antes, lo veía incluso amargado y creo que deberíamos hacer una reflexión entre todos en este país al respecto... Veo a Iker y tengo la sensación de que últimamente jugaba bajo presión, como si tuviera que demostrar lo gran portero que es en cada partido, sin esa felicidad con la que siempre jugó. Ahora se va al Oporto y estoy seguro de que será recibido como un héroe."

I met Iker at the U-17 World Cup in Egypt and we got along immediately. We were kids, but we were already the same. We enjoyed teasing each other, and I have always had a weakness for quick-witted people. The passage of time has not changed Iker, and whenever I'm asked about him, I say the same thing: He is good people.

That's why what is happening to him leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In the last few years I've seen that he hasn't enjoyed it like before, I've even seen him bitter, and I believe that all of us in this country should reflect on this... I look at Iker and I have the feeling that lately he has been playing under pressure, as if he had to prove what a great keeper he is in every match, without the joy with which he always played. Now he's going to Oporto and I am sure that he will be received like a hero.

and regarding the relationship that transcends club rivalries:

"Lo que más me alegra es que hemos mantenido nuestra amistad por encima de nuestros colores. Iker es del Madrid cerrado y yo del Barça a tope pero logramos superar una crisis como lo hacen los matrimonios."

What makes me happiest is that we have put our friendship above our colors. Iker is of Madrid, period, and I am of Barça to the max, but we succeeded in overcoming a crisis the way that married people do.

*in fairness, Iker did finally agree to attend a farewell event at the Bernabeu, and about a gazillion fans showed up, many of whom called for President Florentino Perez's head.

<333333333 So much love for these two men, and I wish both of them all the best in this next stage of their respective careers.
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