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One goalkeeper looked unsettled on Tuesday. One committed a mistake so bad the word “howler” falls howlingly short. One is headed home instead of Kiev, Ukraine, for the Champions League final.
One goalkeeper is. The other is Keylor Navas.
All that isn’t to rag on Bayern Munich’s Sven Ulreich. He had a rough night, but he’s been solid all season after being thrust into duty when star keeper Manuel Neuer went down with injury.
It’s just Navas’ time with Real Madrid has been so hotly scrutinized, so pervasively deconstructed, you might have expected him to turn in the bad performance on a big stage.
Instead, he was lightning-quick to several balls that could have spelled doom for Real Madrid in its semifinal triumph over Bayern. He footed away this shot by Robert Lewandowski in the first half, then scrambled to the other side of the net to pressure James Rodriguez into a horrific miss:
Later on, Navas made an outstanding diving stop to deny Corentin Tolisso when the Bayern midfielder whipped a split-second shot on goal. You can see it at the 1:20 mark here:
And so Real Madrid is off to its third straight Champions League final, with Navas having made 12 saves over two semifinal legs.
Is he the best goalkeeper in the world? Nobody could sensibly argue that. Is he even as good as Manchester United’s David de Gea, the 27-year-old Spaniard long considered Real Madrid’s keeper-in-waiting? Most likely not.
But is Navas some glaring weakness that’s cost Real Madrid trophies left and right the past few seasons? Rabid Real Madrid fans would have you believe so. Reality would say the opposite.
Navas has been a central figure in Real Madrid’s last two European triumphs, and also its triumph domestically last season. He’s a consistent hand who almost always keeps his nerves amid crushing pressure at the world’s biggest club.
He also makes sense economically. Navas signed from Levante, where he was named La Liga Goalkeeper of the Year, in 2014 for a relatively cheap fee of $13.6 million. He currently makes a little less than $116,000 in weekly wages, tied for 10th-highest on the team. His reliability has helped Real Madrid splash its gobs of cash in both the transfer market and in rewarding the players it’s developed.
Is Navas shaky at times? Sure. But so is pretty much every Real Madrid defender. Clean sheets aren’t exactly endemic to these Galacticos’ recent success. They just need to limit the damage and let Cristiano Ronaldo and the attacking contingent pump in goals at a sweltering rate.
Perhaps the neverending rumors linking Navas with a demotion or move away from the Bernabeu stem from a transfer saga at the close of the 2015 summer window. Real Madrid was reportedly trying to complete a deal for de Gea but failed to submit the proper paperwork in time. Whether or not that’s true — if a mega-club really wanted a star, the likelihood of a bureaucratic stumble of that magnitude is flimsy — Navas has done nothing but hush the madding crowd ever since.
That doesn’t mean he’ll stay in Madrid forever. He’s said he intends to play out his contract until it ends in 2020, and then see what happens.
If he leaves, he’ll leave a whole lot later than everyone thought, and for good reason. It’s time to start respecting that.
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