May 14, 2021

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Keylor Navas: the late recognition of the PSG goalkeeper

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He came out at half-time. Because the score, Saturday April 10, then seemed acquired (3-0), that Strasbourg seemed quite unable to come back (confirmation in the end, 4-1). And because it was about taking no risk. So, PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino hurried to preserve Keylor Navas. Especially to avoid that a nasty twist of fate prevents him from keeping the Parisian goal, Tuesday, April 13, against Bayern Munich, in the quarter-final second leg of the Champions League.

→ ANALYSIS. The well-established mechanics of the Bayern machine, opponent of PSG in the Champions League

The Costa Rican doorman has in fact become as valuable as stars Kylian Mbappé and Neymar. He was the savior against Barcelona in the second leg of the round, single-handedly blocking a new Catalan “remount”. Savior again in the first leg against Bayern, seizing the Munich machine alone (no less than ten saves, for a final result of 3-2 for PSG). Indispensable Navas. Object in all respects. At 34, finally.

A long journey in the shadows

Because his story tells the humility and patience of a player for a very long time in search of consideration. Little Keylor was already cheap when, at the age of 7, he wanted to tease the ball, in San Isidro de El General, in rural southern Costa Rica. Too thin, they told him. He persists. The kid doesn’t have much, but knows what he wants. His parents went to the United States to find work, he is raised by his penniless but rich in faith grandparents. So there you have it, Keylor wants to be a professional footballer for his mother and grandmother. And he believes in it.

At 14, he managed to join the training center of the capital club, Deportivo Saprissa. Five years later, he made it to the first team, but the titular goalkeeper gave him a long shadow. Get discouraged ? He prefers to pray. “God comes first in my life”, he emphasizes. He attends two masses a week.

And it is in a group of Christian studies that he meets his future wife. He became the holder in 2007, married in 2009, and this is not anecdotal in his career: his determination and the means he gives himself to succeed, undoubtedly he also owes them to his wife, Andrea Salas, always to support. It was she who encouraged him to try the European adventure in 2010.

Humility and faith slung over the shoulder

He arrives in Spain, in Albacete in the second division, but the club retrogrades at the end of the season. He was then loaned to Levante, once again as an understudy. If he becomes the holder, it is because his teammate finds himself involved in a dark history of match-fixing. His performances during the 2013-2014 season allowed him to become goalkeeper for the national team at the 2014 World Cup.

The shy Keylor then becomes a national hero (read below) : he conceded only one goal in the group stage, however contested against top names (Uruguay, Italy and England); then in the round of 16 against Greece, he released two masterful saves and a decisive penalty shoot-out to qualify his team… finally eliminated in the following round by the Netherlands.

This exhibition under the spotlight of the World Cup earned him a recruitment at Real Madrid. But again as a second at the post, monopolized by Iker Casillas. First goalkeeper, he certainly becomes the following year, but by default: Real wanted to exchange him with Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea, but an administrative error in the last hours of the transfer window derailed the transaction. Keylor Navas then ensures, but still without a backhand effect. Three titles of European champion in 2016, 2017 and 2018? “I simply tried to take advantage of the chance that was offered to me to do things modestly and in the best possible way”, he comments.

The firm hand

In the process, Real recruits Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Question recognition, we know a more blatant manifestation. Too nice Keylor Navas? Quite silent, rather discreet, he does not bring her back on or off the field. At PSG, he did not arrive by rolling mechanics in September 2019. But he distinguished himself in goals, feline on his line and a firm hand, his main assets. His teammates also praise his role in the locker room, the serenity it brings. “I try to work with humility, he underestimates, but it’s true that I always want to win. I try to spread this desire to others. “

He succeeds. Quietly, Keylor Navas wins. The Costa Rican, too long underrated, points well among the best at his post. The evidence today is obvious. It was time.

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In Costa Rica, a national hero

After his exploits at the 2014 World Cup and his signing at Real Madrid, Keylor Navas has become a living legend at home, as has Oscar Arias Sanchez, the country’s former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1987 for his plan to to preserve Central America from the struggles of the Cold War. The player’s career is in perfect harmony with the image that the small state wishes to defend: humility, work and excellence. And the key role played by Catholicism. This is also the title of a feature film, produced in 2017, dedicated to the life of the guardian, from his lost province to world glory: Man of faith.

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