Kiko Casilla’s involvement in the matchday squad against Barnsley towards the close of the season was very telling of where he fits into Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa’s future plans.
When he signed from Real Madrid in January 2019, it was said that this was a signing for the Premier League. The issue: that season did not bring the Premier League to Elland Road.
Kiko has had a mixed stint at Elland Road, there are some fixtures when he has shown himself to be a confident shot-stopper and a clean distributor of the ball. His ability to find wide players in space, thus building attacks from the back has been an asset to Leeds and crucial to the style Bielsa has built at Leeds.
However, for every good game it seemed like there was a bad game too, and Kiko was not without his footballing mistakes. High-profile mistakes like that against Derby in the Play-Offs last season brought harsh critcism of the player and many expected him to leave in the Summer, with his wages thought to be one of the highest in the squad.
It was unclear whether Leeds could afford another full season of Casilla without Premier League money.
Then came Charlton away in September, when Casilla was found to have racially abused Jonathan Leko. Though the hearing was an extensive process and so Kiko did learn his fate until there were 12 games to go this season. Up stepped, the young Ilan Meslier who carried the weight of a city on his shoulders. A big ask for a player with little first-team experience. Did it show? Not at all.
Meslier proved he can do all Kiko does, and more. Though Kiko was involved in the penultimate game against Derby, the subsequent reaction from the fanbase and the wider media was one of revolt. He was quietly stepped down against Charlton for the final game of the season.
From a technical point of view, the difference in wages does not represent a difference in quality and so Leeds will be forced to ask themselves whether Casilla commands too high a wage, a wage that could be used, better, elsewhere in the Premier League.
Moreover and most importantly too, there must also be a discussion of morality. Leeds have repeatedly supported the BlackLivesMatter movement and iterated a standpoint of zero tolerance for racism. This is an opportunity for them to put words into action here and fix what was a rather embarassing defence of Casilla’s at the FA hearing.