Navas faces uncertain summer ahead

Real Madrid 'keeper Keylor Navas could be in for another transfer saga after Sergio Ramos called for David de Gea to join him at Real.
Real Madrid 'keeper Keylor Navas could be in for another transfer saga after Sergio Ramos called for David de Gea to join him at Real. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Keylor Navas is likely to win another goalkeeper of the year award in La Liga. He has kept clean sheets in seven of his eight Champions League starts and conceded fewer goals per game than any Real Madrid goalkeeper in the past 20 years.

Still, as recently as last week, Sergio Ramos, his club captain, said that, while talking about other goalkeepers would be a "lack of respect" to the incumbents, he urged Manchester United's Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea to join him at the Bernabeu this summer.

You cannot help but wonder: What more does Navas need to do?

He showed his worth again during Real's 3-2 come-from-behind win away to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. He made a key save to prevent Rayo from going 3-0 up and another to snuff out a potential equaliser.

If Real remain in the La Liga title race - they are a single point behind leaders Barcelona - a big chunk of the credit must go to him.

Part of it may have to do with the perceptions we have of goalkeepers. Navas simply does not look like your top modern-day No. 1s, like de Gea or Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois.

Unlike those spindly, long-limbed giants, he is generously listed at 1.85m (he may be smaller) and somewhat barrel-chested. He relies on punches and reflexes and there's a certain frenzy to the way he plays.

"He's quite unique in the way he plays and the way he trains," said David Preece, the Lincoln City goalkeeping coach. "But there's not a lot of classic technique there. You see him deflect a lot of shots from distance or make double and triple saves."

And yet, he is still standing.

That said, even if Real win the Champions League or La Liga, or both, de Gea may well be at the Bernabeu next season, which means Navas will once again be deemed second-best.

Then again, he is used to it.

He is 29-years-old and yet he has only been first choice for two of the past five seasons.

And, while one of those was spent at Real as an understudy to Iker Casillas, the resident Madrid icon, two others saw him on the bench at Levante, which is not quite the same thing.

Levante signed him for £150,000 (S$291,000) and sold him to Real in 2014 for £8.5 million.

He arrived at the Bernabeu after being named goalkeeper of the year in La Liga and leading Costa Rica to the quarter-final of the World Cup, where he won three man-of-the-match awards in five games. And yet he spent the season on the Real bench, playing deputy to Casillas.

The following August, Real had no reservations about including him as a makeweight in the deal to acquire de Gea from United.

The transfer collapsed and he was back in the Real goal. But it was nonetheless humiliating.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Navas faces uncertain summer ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe