Keylor Navas: The Gala Tico Who Was Never Quite a Galactico

“I already know what a Champions League final is like, but the stairs today are new. They make me a little nervous,” said Keylor Navas, back in mid May.

The stairs in question were the famous red carpeted set at the Cannes film festival, where the ​Real Madrid goalkeeper was promoting his own biopic, a few days ahead of another Champions League final – his and Los Blancos’ third in a row. A few weeks after that would follow the World Cup in Russia, where Navas would once again be the standout star of the Costa Rica side.

Hombre de Fe tells the story of young Keylor’s unlikely rise, fuelled by his faith in God, from rural Costa Rica to professional football, the World Cup quarter finals and transfer to the world’s biggest and most successful club side.

Not many players, not even Real Madrid ones, get their own biopic at Cannes. Yet, despite near unparalleled levels of super stardom in his homeland, Navas, the ‘man of faith’ as his film title translates, has never really had his own belief reciprocated by Real Madrid’s own executive producer Florentino Perez, who will settle for nothing less than a Galactico cast.

Thibaut Courtois is the latest A lister linked with Navas’ role at the Santiago Bernabeu, with reports indicating Chelsea have accepted a €35m​ bid for the Belgian, who, although lacking in his own motion picture, won the Golden Glove at the 2018 World Cup and has the stature and pedigree of very few in his position.

Navas, who joined Real Madrid from unfashionable Levante for €10m after the previous World Cup in 2014, has seen the links to other keepers come and go almost since his arrival. However, this time it really does look to be the end for the Tico who was never quite accepted as one of the Galacticos; the unceremonious fade to black at the end of his Real Madrid story.

Few will be surprised to see Navas moved on by Perez and new manager Julen Lopetegui this summer, but perhaps they should be. 

The Costa Rican has not been a cameo figure, but central to Real Madrid’s three Champions League titles in a row from 2016 to 2018 (during which he missed just two games across the three tournaments), proving himself worthy of the same pitch as Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos and Cristiano Ronaldo, with his agility, reflexes and composure.

Although signed under Carlo Ancelotti and trusted by Zinedine Zidane, Navas perhaps owes his Real Madrid career to a dodgy fax machine connection between Manchester and Madrid. But for an embarrassingly missed deadline, he would’ve been a makeweight in the deal to bring David De Gea to the Spanish capital back in 2015, after just one season as Iker Casillas’ understudy at the Bernabeu.

Navas, as his film is keen to show, is used to dealing with hardship and triumphing over adversity – he was rejected by his local team in Costa Rica for being too short. However, his dream club attempting to sell him after a single season was too much and ​​he ​admitted to shedding tears after the ordeal.

UEFA Champions League'Real Madrid v Liverpool FC'

His skin has thickened under the lights at the Bernabeu however and although as uncomfortable talking about his own future as he is on the red carpet, Navas has continued to dutifully bat away speculation every transfer window, as journalists pepper the stopper with (not unfounded) rumours about the seemingly inevitable arrivals of: De Gea, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Alisson Becker and Courtois.

Navas found an ally in Zidane, whose own success as manager allowed him to push back against Perez’s desire for a new marquee name keeper and stick with the Costa Rican as the trusted number one for his glorious reign. 

If there were still any doubters left (other than Perez) they were converted as Navas made a string of impressive saves to see Real Madrid past Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final second leg this year. There was no trademark celebration, or self-aggrandising post match comments and not too many column inches (outside of Costa Rica) dedicated to his performances, but the 2018 Champions League was as much about Navas as any other Madrid player.

However, in this now post-Ronaldo Madrid, the need for statements in the transfer market is as great as ever for Perez and the board. With Zidane now gone, as well as goalkeeping coach Luis Llopis, (known as Navas’ ‘guardian angel’ for his part in the keeper’s development), it seems no number of saves, or even Cannes appearances, will convince Perez that Navas is anything more than a placeholder for his true Galactico number one.

Where Navas will go next and how much he will go for (he is 31 years old and holds a contract with Madrid to 2020) remain to be seen. At least publicly, he continues to maintain that he wants to see out his contract and is looking forward to working under new boss Lopetegui. Working, as he started at Madrid four years ago as an understudy, is surely not option, however.

Real Madrid have a long history of granting the rest of Europe with the bargain of the summer, from Claude Makelele to Arjen Robben. 2018’s bargain summer castoff might well turn out to be Navas. Whoever does take him on, may not get a true Galactico, but they will be getting one hell of a goalkeeper.