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Real Madrid Safe with Keylor Navas, the Man the Club Is Not Sure It Wants

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2016

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 08: Keylor Navas of Real Madrid celebrates during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Real Madrid CF and AS Roma at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 8, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Keylor Navas was back again, there again. This was the place where this whole story had turned, but this was not Valdebebas, the Bernabeu or his position in front of the Real Madrid net.

This was Barajas airport. 

Preparing to board a plane on Monday to join his Costa Rican team-mates for international duty, Navas spoke to a press contingent that is rapidly growing to adore him, one of its members showing him that day's cover of Marca that read, "Three tigers and a panther."

"I like it," said Navas of the cover featuring the BBC plus him, "but I only do what I can."

Well, as it turns out, what he can do is pretty special. 

Only 24 hours earlier, Navas and his team-mates had stormed past Sevilla at the Bernabeu, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale all scoring in the BBC's first outing as a unit in more than two months. In patches, the hosts had been brilliant, and the eventual 4-0 scoreline gave the impression of a lopsided affair. But as ever with Madrid this season, the scoreline didn't tell the whole story. 

In the opening minutes, Navas had been on hand to deny Sergio Escudero at his near post. Later on, he was off his line in a flash to crowd out Vicente Iborra; minutes later, he did the same to snuff out Kevin Gameiro. Then he denied Escudero again; then Gameiro again, this one a wonderful stop. 

Between all of that, he'd saved a penalty. Again. He'd been the star. Again. 

He headed for Barajas with a smile this time. "I feel really good, calm," he told reporters before boarding his plane. "I'm happy with the belief the technical team has in me this year. I've worked hard to prove I belong at Real Madrid."

Real Madrid's Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas stops a penalty  during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF vs Sevilla FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2016. / AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU        (Photo credit shou
PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/Getty Images

Navas certainly has worked hard to prove that, but if those around the team have shown him their belief, the same can't be said for those higher up. 

This is a club, after all, that had tried to get rid of him. Last summer on August 31, the final day of the transfer window, Navas had sat in a waiting room at Barajas, his phone by his side, expecting the call to come. He was, reluctantly, all set to go to Manchester; David De Gea was ready to make the opposite journey. 

But famously, the call never came. And neither did De Gea. 

"I signed the Manchester United contract on a stretcher at Valdebebas while I had my medical," said Navas to COPE (h/t Marca). "My agent told me to be alert to my phone. We had to go to Barajas, although I never actually got on a plane, I was in a waiting room. I cried that night when I found out I was staying, it was a buildup of emotions. I didn't want to leave, Madrid is my home."

If the city now feels like home, so too must the Real Madrid box. All season, the Costa Rican has been outstanding in goal for Los Blancos, his excellence soaring to the point that it will frighten Madrid fans to think just how disastrous this campaign could have been without him. 

On Sunday, his penalty save from Gameiro was the third spot-kick he's saved this season after also denying Real Betis' Ruben Castro and Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann from 12 yards. Across the whole evening, he blunted Sevilla, frustrating them just as he'd done against Las Palmas. Against Malaga. Against Roma. Espanyol. Granada. Atletico. Athletic Bilbao. Deportivo La Coruna. Celta Vigo. 

Everyone, basically. 

Real Madrid's Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas (2ndR) reacts after stopping a penalty kick past Real Madrid's defender Dani Carvajal (R) during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs Real Madrid CF at the Vicente Calderon stadium
JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

That he's had to be at such a standard has said much about the disorganisation and systemic flaws that have existed in front of him. In Spain, no goalkeeper has been more impressive, faster, sharper or more alert. Few have had to be. On his own, Navas has held Madrid together. 

"The plug in the Real Madrid bathtub," AS editor Alfredo Relano labelled him in November. "Keylor Navas and 10 passengers," he added more recently. 

And yet, doubt still surrounds what will happen next. Belief, trust: It doesn't appear to be universal. 

Praise aside, AS reported that Madrid still intend to target De Gea come the summer; in England, the Daily Mail suggested the same. Ahead of the recent trip to Las Palmas, Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was even forced to bat away questions from the Madrid press over potential goalkeeping additions. 

This just won't go away.

But for Real Madrid, it has to.

After the turmoil of the current season and consecutive summers of upheaval, Madrid desperately need to establish some stability, some continuity. Too often they've hurtled from one plan to the next, from one star to the next, from one method to another, rarely seeing anything through.

Admittedly, there are areas of concern that need addressing—the current balance of the midfield shouldn't be allowed to continue beyond the summer—but in goal, a foundation already exists in Navas, even if he's not the man they originally wanted. 

Madrid can squash the uncertainty if they choose. Bolster Navas' contract, reject the notion of De Gea; whatever is necessary. Because although Navas isn't a household name, though he's not imposing in stature, though he's not Madrid-born, though he's not a symbol like the other guy, he is one thing: a pretty special keeper. 

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