Let's be honest. As football fans, we are completely unfair to goalkeepers in general. When it comes to all-time great goalkeepers there are not that many dimensions. I would guess that most people's top 10 goalkeepers of all time list feature a lot of the same choices, but in this article, I will talk about one goalkeeper in specific that might slip many fans' minds; someone that accomplished so much in a short amount of time, showing up multiple times in extremely tough situations to make some of the most iconic saves ever. A player who single-handedly saved his team and country numerous times, and that player is Keylor Navas.
Since the very beginning of his career, Keylor Navas never had the traditional path that superstars tend to. He was never considered a prodigy or attended a major youth program, and had to start from the very bottom. He comes from an extremely poor family in Costa Rica and started his career for a local club named Saprissa in their youth program at the age of 13. By the time he was finally old enough to play in the main team, he did not get any offers or was scouted by any big club. It even took him 2 years before he could prove to his manager that he deserved a spot in the starting lineup, but Navas never gave up. He always had dreams of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world and being finally able to help his poor family financially.
In his first season as a starter (2008-2009), he would play 31 matches and concede 31 goals, while keeping 11 clean sheets, claiming the prize for being the best goalkeeper in the Costa Rican Primera Division. In the 2009-2010 season, he'd make a significant improvement, with 31 matches played and only 25 goals conceded, keeping 13 clean sheets, ultimately earning his second-best goalkeeper of the season award. This was finally enough for European clubs to start paying attention.
In 2010 a Spanish club from the second division named Albucette decided to give Navas a try as the club's primary keeper. In 36 appearances for his new club, he conceded 49 goals and kept 5 clean sheets, which is not good at all, but you cannot pinpoint the blame on him, because his team finished in last place and got relegated. At the moment it seemed that his dreams were over until Albucette decided to loan him for one season to Levante, where he could play at the highest level of Spanish football, the La Liga.
He made his debut on 13 May 2012 in a crucial match against Atletico Bilbao, which they would go on and win 3-0, giving the club their first-ever Europa League qualification. Navas was crucial as he did not concede any goals and stopped every single shot on goal that game, convincing Levante to sign him on a three-year contract. In his first year at the club, he would not become the starter, being a back-up for Gustavo Munúa, but he was always called up against tough opponents and big games for his composure, leadership, quick reflexes and incredible penalty stopping ability.
In his next season (2013-2014) Navas became the first-choice goalkeeper. In this season he had 39 appearances, 40 goals conceded while keeping an impressive 18 clean sheets. This led him to win the league's best goalkeeper award over Atlético Madrid's Thibaut Courtois. In March 2014, he became the first-ever goalkeeper to win the La Liga player of the month award. He ended the season as the goalkeeper with the most saves (267) in La Liga, finishing fourth in the Zamora Trophy which is an award for goalkeepers with the fewest goals conceded to games played ratio.
Finally, On the 3rd of August 2014, Real Madrid triggered Navas' €10 million buyout clause, and he signed a six-year contract with the club. Navas' hard work and struggles finally paid off, as he achieved his dream of playing for a huge club. In the 2014- 2015 season, he only played 11 games but he managed to only concede 8 goals and keep 5 clean sheets. The next season came and club legend Iker Casillas left, leaving the spot vacant for Navas to become the starter, but he did not disappoint, as he had the best season of his entire career, playing 45 matches and only conceding 31 goals while keeping 22 clean sheets, he also was the most consistent goalkeeper in the Champions League, conceding only 3 goals in 12 matches and keeping 9 clean sheets. Navas would go on to win the Champions League that season and be one of the main reasons for it. In 2016-2017 he was also extremely consistent playing 41 matches, 50 goals conceded and 7 clean sheets, but that year he performed the best domestically, helping Real Madrid win the La Liga title, the Spanish Super Cup, Uefa Super Cup as well as winning back-to-back Champions League titles.
In the 2017-2018 season, Navas would once again maintain his top-level record of 44 appearances and conceding 49 goals, while keeping 11 clean sheets. But the highlight of his season was his incredible performances in the Champions League, especially in the semi-final against Bayern Munich. He single-handedly kept Madrid alive in the clash, making an insane 8 saves in a single match, which would then lead Real Madrid to complete the three-peat.
Navas had one of the most successful goalkeeping careers of all time in just a short period. Back in his home country, he is considered a hero, and he is finally globally recognized as a world-class goalkeeper. However at the end of the 2018-2019 season, where he played 21 appearances, conceded 21 goals and kept seven clean sheets, which are extremely good numbers, he would be let go. After everything he did for the club, they simply disrespected his legacy as one of the greats, forging a narrative that the other stars were more crucial than him and that he only had good stats because of Madrid's defence. Thankfully PSG was smart enough to sign him as he would play 35 matches, conceding only 26 goals and having 19 clean sheets, showing that Real Madrid made a huge mistake in getting rid of him, but for some reason, people still don't pay attention to him. He gets close to no respect from pundits who only majorly talked about David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois. The 2020-2021 season became the second-best season of his career so far, only conceding 36 goals in 45 appearances while also maintaining a mind-blowing amount of 20 clean sheets. He also led Ligue One in saves with a 79% save rate and was another huge factor in leading PSG to the Champions League Final. Unfortunately, history does like to repeat itself. With the signing of Donnaruma once again Navas became overshadowed, having only played 10 matches so far this season.
Keylor Navas is by far the most underappreciated goalkeeper in the world and possibly in football history. He deserves better treatment than most clubs ever gave him, and we will probably not see a goalkeeper achieve so much in so little time for the rest of our lives.
“Keylor Navas - Stats 21/22.” Transfermarkt, https://www.transfermarkt.com/keylor-navas/leistungsdaten/spieler/79422.
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