By Alex Baker
Los Angeles – Nine time European Champions, Real Madrid were at UCLA Tuesday conducting a pre-season training session in advance of a pair of upcoming friendlies in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Pepe, Marcelo, Royston Drenthe and Iker Casillas were among the players who took part in the training. They players stood in a circle doing squats, leg-lifts, hamstring stretches and other warm-ups while new coach, Jose Mourinho stood in the center of the group, calling out instructions.
The players then took part in a run and pass drill in which they passed and caught the ball using their hands rather than their feet. The session was only open briefly to the press. However a private audience of 200 fans who’d purchased tickets to benefit the Los Angeles Galaxy Foundation was able to stay and watch it in its entirety.
After the session had ended, World Cup winning keeper, Iker Casillas spoke through a translator, answering questions from assembled members of the local and international press.
Having recently been appointed team captain following Raul’s transfer to Schalke and Guti’s departure to Besiktas, Casillas explained that, “Being a captain is a huge responsibility but I learned a lot from all of my past captains.“
Speaking of his departed teammates, he said that, “Personally I will miss them. It will be very sad not to have them and very strange since I played with them for many, many years. But time passes on for everyone. I am very sad but by the same token I am very happy and I wish them well.”[picappgallerysingle id=”9449556″]
When asked about new coach, Jose Mourinho, Casillas said, “Many people spoke of him before he came and all of his greatness and all of his goodness. And everything they said is true and more. He is expecting me to serve as a leader to the young players. He is expecting that since we lost a lot of players on the team that we play as a team and we win as a team.”
The keeper appeared confident in Madrid’s ability to handle archrivals Barcelona in the upcoming La Liga season, explaining that, “Barcelona is a very good team but the important thing is not to take them as individual players on a team, but as a team. I expect that we will do very well against them this season.”
Real Madrid will play Mexican side, Club America in San Francisco Wednesday. Casillas was cautiously confident about the encounter.
“So far I know that they have one win and one loss and they have entered into their season. For Club America they are into their season and we are not. We expect that their level will be better than ours but I promise that we will play well and we will play hard.”
The keeper also expressed his views on the MLS and Madrid’s upcoming match against the Los Angeles Galaxy.[picappgallerysingle id=”9488934″]
“MLS is a very good league and as we say, they have the ball rolling. Obviously people like Rafa Marquez are here and other great players like Thierry (Henry), so something must be great about this league. I have great friends that are playing in this league. I expect that when we play (Galaxy) on Saturday we will have a great match.”
Further primed about the Galaxy’s attacking threat, he spoke somewhat guardedly, saying that, “Landon Donovan is no doubt a very good player and we will not be able to see what he can do until actual game time. “
The keeper, who had cut his vacation short to begin pre-season training was also asked if he had any residual feelings towards Donovan following Spain’s loss to the U.S. in last summers Confederations Cup.
“I really don’t see any personal feelings towards or against him for our loss to them. That was country versus country and this is now club versus club.”
Casillas was also asked if he thought Spain’s World Cup victory would help resolve the often-fractious relationship between the country’s various provinces.
“I try to stay out of politics but it was fantastic to come back to Spain after having won the World Cup and see young and old as well as flags flying over the entire city. It was very, very patriotic and I really enjoyed that.”
Finally Casillas was asked if he’d been recognized since he’d been in town.
“I’ve been to L.A before and since the World Cup I have noticed that there is a bigger understanding of the game and more knowledge of soccer. I have been recognized in a few places but nothing like in Europe.”
Real Madrid play Club American Wednesday, August 4th at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Three days later they will go toe-to-toe with Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.