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Mourinho leaves Iker Casillas on the bench

Real Madrid captain, national team hero, role model and all round decent guy: Iker Casillas is not really the ideal character to use as a scapegoat. The fact that Jose Mourinho did exactly that has caused commentators to speculate that the coach has a career death wish when it comes to his future at Real.

Nobody had noticed that Casillas had suffered any loss of form, rather the contrary. The goalkeeper has been the first name on the Real team-sheet since he was a teenager. Mourinho though decided to leave him on the bench for the visit to Malaga, replacing him with reserve Antonio Adan. Real lost 3-2 to fall 16 points behind Barcelona and end any lingering hopes they might have of retaining their Spanish title.

Mourinho is now in a state of permanent war with the Spanish sporting press, and was typically defiant when challenged on the selection. "Casillas? I have a clear conscience," he told reporters. "I try to choose the best team for every game."

Casillas, by contrast, is the darling of the press. He was modest, restrained and professional when discussing the decision. "I'm not used to being a substitute but above Iker Casillas or any player is the team," he said. "What I need to do is continue training and try to recover the confidence of the coach. I feel good but it is the coach who decides who plays. It will be a nice battle with Antonio. There is a healthy rivalry between us." The coach had not spoken to the player about the omission. "Mourinho didn't explain anything to me," Casillas said. "He doesn't do it when I play nor when I don't."

It seemed an act of deliberate provocation by Mourinho, already assumed to be leaving at the end of the season. The latest action suggests he might prefer to leave a little sooner.

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