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Where does Keylor Navas rank among Real Madrid’s goalkeeping greats?

There is more to legendary status than just what you do on the pitch.

Real Madrid CF v Levante UD - La Liga Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images

This week saw the end of another era between Real Madrid’s goalposts as Keylor Navas departed Madrid for Paris on deadline day. He leaves the Spanish capital as the eighth most prolific goalkeeper in club history, having made 104 appearances. Since the turn of the century, only Iker Casillas has started more games in goals for Real than the Costa Rican, which, for a guy who was a faulty tax machine away from making just 11 appearances, is quite a stat.

Among these goalkeepers, Navas is the third most successful at 12 trophies, seven off Casillas’s final tally of 19. The Costa Rican is level with San Iker and four other shot stoppers as the Champions League most successful goalkeepers having won three titles, Navas being the only one to have done it consecutively.

Now, you have probably read those two opening paragraphs, filled with stats out of context, and thought, “well this is great, but what does it all mean for Keylor Navas’s legacy?” The answer is; it means nothing.

Goalkeepers are notoriously hard to analyse to begin with and they are even more difficult to analyse when they are Real Madrid goalkeepers.

Lucas Navarrete made a great point on a recent podcast that Real Madrid have rarely had world class goalkeepers. It’s true. For a club that demands such quality everywhere else on the pitch, it is quite surprising what an underwhelming selection of goalkeepers populate it’s history books. Iker Casillas and Ricardo Zamora are the only two Real Madrid shot stoppers you could argue had a historical impact on goalkeeping, outside of those two, there isn’t much to write home about. There is probably more to be said of the goalkeeper that didn’t win something at Real Madrid than the one that did. In terms of appearances, Iker Casillas is the only goalkeeper in the top ten, ranked third according to BDFutbol, while Francisco Buyo is 16th and Miguel Angel, who spent nearly 20 years at the club, is somehow 29th.

Defending is the anti Christ of Real Madrid (as it is for many clubs) so where we might get highlight reels of Di Stefano’s goals from the 1950s, no such montages exist for Juan Alonso’s best saves from around the same period. Though goalkeepers receive individual awards on the basis of their defensive record, there is more to defending than just a talented goalkeeper and though one goalkeeper might be statically better than another, the systems they play in could dramatically change our evaluation of them. For instance, is it more impressive to concede 20 goals over a season when your team’s focus is defensive solidity or to concede 30 goals over a season when your team’s focus is offensive fluidity?

When boiled down to this, there is enough lack of evidence to assert that if you were a mildly talented Spanish goalkeeper up until about 30 years ago, you could have enjoyed a supremely successful career at Real Madrid. It doesn’t speak much of the prestige of the position and does taint Navas’s achievements at the club, however, there is more to a legacy than what a player brings to the football pitch.

The game is filled with tangibles and intangibles, both valued equally by fans and both often marking out legends from world class players, which Real Madrid are accustomed to having. No doubt Iker Casillas was a supremely talented goalkeeper, but he was also club captain and the personification of Real Madrid’s señorío. Those intangibles are as important to the fans as the trophies and incredible saves he made.

Another example of the intangibles in a legacy is Juanito, a good striker in his own right but better strikers haven’t enjoyed near the adulation the legendary 7 has (Carlos Santillana “jumps” to mind), this is because even though Santillana was more talented than Juanito, Juanito appealed to the fans more due to his heart, passion for the badge and that famous quote that has now become integral to the club’s identity.

Navas’s character and personality mimics Casillas in many ways and that might just stand to him in the coming years. His career at the club is also quite a good story, that he picked the mantle up from our greatest ever goalkeeper and then helped the club to more historic success might be something that will stick with and appeal to Madrid fans for decades to come.

Then there is the stuff you can’t predict sticking in the memory that does, like Juanito’s qoute. I know for me personally, one of the things that come to mind when I think of this era is Navas praying.

Real Madrid v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images

It’s in images and actions that players are unexpectedly remembered and it’s here that Keylor Navas’s legacy lies. Though the low profile of his position might mean his performances will not survive the test of time, nostalgia and iconography might ensure his character and name are preserved in the minds of Madridistas.

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