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World Cup 2018: Keylor Navas may not feel the love at Real Madrid but Costa Rica's hero remains a top shot-stopper

The 31-year-old Tico is one of the most-decorated goalkeepers of the decade, not that you'd know it from Madrid's constant efforts to replace him

Ed Malyon
Sports Editor
Friday 22 June 2018 14:27 BST
Brazil World Cup profile

In mid-August 2015, when David de Gea was training with the reserves at Manchester United amid interest from Real Madrid, Keylor Navas rightly will have felt his days were numbered.

The Costa Rican shotstopper had joined the Bernabeu club only a year before, a €10m purchase from Levante on the back of an impressive World Cup with Costa Rica, but 12 months later had already been deemed only worthy of being tossed into a deal with United as a make-weight for the Spain number 1.

Deadline day came and went, accusations were traded back and forth but despite both sides trying to get the paperwork done, an embarrassing error at the Madrid end saw the transfer fall through.

In the subsequent three seasons, Real Madrid won the Champions League every year. They have become the most-successful football team of the modern era and Navas continues to be an unheralded cornerstone of their success.

Florentino Perez usually gets what he wants and for the past four years he has wanted a new goalkeeper. Why exactly that is his obsession is a little unclear. Perhaps Navas is not marketable enough, coming from a nation of fewer than five million people and one not necessarily overflowing with excess capital for replica shirts. Maybe it is because Perez, an arch-traditionalist if we are being kind, does not think the 31-year-old Navas has the stature to be a top-level goalkeeper.

Whatever the motive, the result is the same. Real Madrid's president has been trying to replace Navas for three seasons and yet perhaps it is the Costa Rican's greatest save that he keeps palming away those coming for his place in the team. This January, it took intervention from Zinedine Zidane, one of the few inside the Bernabeu's marble corridors to appreciate Navas' quality, to prevent the president signing Athletic Club's Kepa.

Zidane was the rare example of a Real Madrid coach who had avoided being fired for long enough that they might have a say in transfers. He put his foot down and, like all at Madrid's Valdebebas training ground, believed in the quality of the super-agile Tico. Navas is endearingly quiet, a polite man brought up by his grandparents. He is used to knockbacks, he was rejected by his local team in Costa Rica for being too short before eventually being spotted by the country's biggest club, Saprissa.

With Zizou stepping down this summer, Perez is likely to get his wish and Navas will be superseded. £70m for Alisson of Roma, the Brazil number 1 and a marketing boost or £60m for Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea's clean-cut, statuesque goalkeeper, the options are there and we're just waiting to see which one Perez pulls the trigger on.

What happens next with Navas is anybody's guess but once again on the biggest stage - and you can pick the World Cup or the Champions League here, because either are applicable - the Costa Rican has shown what he can do.

Keylor Navas of Costa Rica in action (EPA)

Against Brazil in St Petersburg on Friday afternoon he was his usual self, a brilliant shotstopper with the reflexes of a cat and an underappreciated reading of danger. He can't make himself six inches taller but he can be quicker and smarter than other goalkeepers and he frequently is. Though Coutinho arrived late to break Costa Rican hearts with a stoppage-time winner, it was another display from Keylor that makes you wonder why Madrid are so keen to jettison him and, more pressingly, who it might be that profits from such unexplainable impulses.

It could have been Manchester United, indeed it would have been had the proverbial fax machine been up and firing. Instead, one of the most-decorated goalkeepers of the decade is on the lookout for a new club knowing his days in the Spanish capital are likely numbered. Against Brazil he reminded the world, with hundreds of millions watching, that he is still one of the finest in the business.

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