Kiko Casilla's place in Leeds United pecking order suggests logical outcome despite Marcelo Bielsa stance - Graham Smyth

Playing second fiddle to a 20-year-old cannot have been easy for Champions League winner Kiko Casilla, so imagine how dropping behind a 19-year-old in the pecking order must feel.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 5:43 am
THIRD CHOICE - Elia Caprile was included in Leeds United's squad for the West Ham game, ahead of Kiko Casilla, pictured. Pic: Getty

At 34, Casilla is in the twilight of his career, but the sun has surely already set on his time with Leeds United.

It very much felt, on Monday night, when Italian youngster Caprile was the preferred option as Marcelo Bielsa’s No 2 for the West Ham game, like it was all over bar the pay-off.

Bielsa bristled in January after Casilla’s poor FA Cup performance against Crawley when asked if he still trusted the keeper and whether or not he had considered teenager Elia Caprile as an alternative.

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“No, I fully trust in Kiko,” he said.

“If someone says Caprile should be in goal ahead of Casilla they ignore Casilla’s whole career and everything Casilla has suffered since the eight-game [racism] ban until now.”

Deciding, as he did this week, that an untested-at-senior-level Caprile should be on the bench ahead of an uninjured Casilla, appeared quite the departure for Bielsa.

He has always backed his keeper, in the wake of mistakes on the pitch and a drawn-out FA investigation into allegations of racism that led to a guilty charge and an eight-game suspension.

In Casilla he sees a colleague with qualities that make him worthy of support and in a society where we are quick to condemn and cast aside fellow humans for their transgressions and mistakes, instead of condemning the transgressions and mistakes and supporting their education or recovery, it’s a thought provoking stance to take at the very least. At this point, it is worth pointing out that Casilla has always maintained his innocence on the racism issue, so for Whites fans who decided they did not believe his defence, there is no education or recovery to support. There has never been an apology to Jonathan Leko, the other player in the alleged incident. To those fans, Casilla is not a person worthy of their support or a place in their club.

Bielsa sees Casilla as a human being. What he doesn’t see him as, however, is a first-choice goalkeeper. There’s the rub, for Leeds United.

Ignoring all else that surrounds Casilla for a second, it’s an undisputed fact that he is on a very good wage. The three Champions League medals he owns, albeit won as Real Madrid’s second-choice keeper, and Leeds’ necessity in January 2019, meant they had to pay a weekly premium to get him. Promotion, obviously, meant a pay rise. And, if he’s getting further from first-team football instead of closer, then that money could be put to greater use and a parting of the ways becomes more and more logical.

Monday night’s team sheet put Casilla’s situation front and centre once more and a cryptic social media post, including the line ‘but one day I get tired, and without saying anything I leave everything and go’ only fuelled the discourse.

Casilla later commented on Instagram, insisting his post was nothing to do with Leeds: “I have not said anything bad about the club or my situation, they are personal things, nothing to do with Leeds.”

It is possible to take him entirely at his word but still struggle to believe he’s anything close to satisfied with his footballing lot, right now. Illan Meslier is Leeds’ No 1 and, for a player of his age and experience, has made a very promising start to Premier League life.

Caprile is said to be performing well and progressing well in training, his Under-23s displays have shown him to be good with his feet and a decent shot-stopper, albeit behind a very good Premier League 2 defence.

Even if Monday’s squad selection was a one-off, Bielsa did not see Casilla as his No 2 goalkeeper for a Premier League fixture and viewed Caprile as a suitable replacement were Meslier to be injured or sent off.

Meslier needs to be pushed, to feel like his spot could be taken at any moment by another.

If the most conceivable scenario is an even younger man doing that, the wall has some writing on it and it reads like a goodbye.