According to Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, Keylor Navas will stay the club’s goalkeeper “for many more years.” What Perez says goes, but was he being entirely truthful in his remarks? His words did little to quell the conjecture that has built around the Costa Rican’s future at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Navas reportedly set to be replaced this summer.
These sort of rumours have followed Navas around for years. For many, he has never truly fit the bill as Real Madrid number one. Maybe it’s that he was signed from unfashionable Levante for just £7.9 million, hardly Galactico money. Or maybe it’s his nationality and the subconscious footballing racism that affects any world class player not from a traditional football nation.
Whatever it is, Navas has never managed to shake the suspicion of many that he is a stopgap solution, a place holder for a more marquee signing. Were it not for a tardy fax machine, David De Gea would have replaced him back in the summer of 2015, with Navas heading in the opposite direction to Manchester United.
More recently, Thibaut Courtois and Alisson Becker have been linked, with Real Madrid also close to signing Athletic Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga in January. Zinedine Zidane ultimately cancelled the deal, deciding that it wasn’t wise to change keepers midway through a season. All of this strongly suggests that while Perez has publicly backed his goalkeeper, Real Madrid have long sought a replacement for Navas. They will likely follow through on that intention this summer.
Navas deserves better than this, though. The 31-year-old is still one of the best goalkeepers in the game right now, proving his worth to Real Madrid in recent years. Navas is an instinctive shot-stopper, as he showed in the Champions League semi final second leg against Bayern Munich, when he almost single-handedly saw his team through the tie. He’s among the very best at reflex saves.
Sure, he makes the odd blunder, but there’s not a goalkeeper out there who doesn’t make a mistake from time to time. Even De Gea, widely considered to be the best goalkeeper in the game at this moment, is susceptible to a below-par performance. Navas, for some reason, receives more criticism than most for such displays, though.
Zidane has just as publicly backed Navas through the media, but both he and Perez supported Alvaro Morata last season before eventually selling the striker to Chelsea in the summer. What is said at the Santiago Bernabeu and what is actually done is often two very different things.
“I’ve always got the best players so you can ask any question you like but I’ve got Keylor and, for me, he’s the best,” Zidane insisted in January, when speculation over a move for Kepa was coming to a head. “I’m sticking with Keylor and Kiko [Casilla]. We’ll see what happens when they open the market. We’ll see if any one comes and if they can, they can. But I’ve got Keylor and I’m happy with that.”
Ultimately, the decision might not come down to Zidane, though. Real Madrid are a club run on different metrics to most and if there is a more glamorous, bigger name available this summer, they will most likely take the chance to sign him. This is the situation Navas faces in the Spanish capital. Through little fault of his own, he could be replaced just on the basis of his reputation.
What Navas has in his favour is that there are few goalkeepers out there who are better than he is. Is Courtois, considering his downturn in form this season, any better than the Costa Rican? What about Alisson, the Brazilian still at a fledgling stage of his career? If it’s De Gea who replaces Navas, then the case can be made, but anyone else and the Real Madrid goalkeeper will be justified in pondering whether he ever stood a chance.
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Also published on Medium.