When you think of Real Madrid, your mind probably immediately goes to some of the biggest names of the footballing stage. The likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo.
And as fate would have it, these absolute fan favourites are often strikers, attacking players who bring joy and excitement to the fans. Not often do you hear people chanting goalkeepers’ names. But one such mythical person did exist in Los Blancos’ ranks for many years, a player presented at the turn of the century.
Of course, that someone is none other than Iker Casillas, a legend sprung out of Real Madrid’s academy and a loyal servant of the club. And Casillas truly was a name revered among the fans and within the club for a very long period of time.
Until, that is, he wasn’t.
And while this is definitely not something entirely new and uncommon in the world football, it was quite a shocking revelation. Players come and go; one day you’re the hero and the next a villain. This is especially true for players who swap shirts, and even more true for those who decide to don the colours of both rival clubs. Luis Figo and a certain pig’s head can certainly attest to that.
But sometimes, this change of heart happens without a great incentive. Let’s stay with Casillas’ example for a bit longer.
The now 38-year-old joined the senior Real Madrid squad in 1999 and stood in between the sticks until 2015 when he made the move to Porto. But not before being banished from the club like he was a nobody. A legend left alone to cry in a press-conference, with a couple of journalists offering him a handkerchief to wipe the tears from his face.
With a shivering voice, he said his final goodbye and then he was gone, never to look back again. And you’d think that the emotion from that scene would teach Real a thing or two but the very same scenario just might be unfolding with their current goalkeeper and a faithful servant of the club, Keylor Navas.
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Navas’ journey is, however, nowhere near as impressive as Casillas’ and the two hardly fit in the same sentence as far as their careers or maybe even abilities are concerned. The Costa Rican arrived in 2014 from Levante and has since been on a rollercoaster ride with the Galacticos.
He has gone from substitute to number one and then back to the bench.
But there was one constant throughout his five-year spell in the capital and that was his commitment. Maybe he was never the flashiest of choices, maybe he was often overlooked and underappreciated, but he was always there. Ready and on standby. And when he was called upon, he acted and most of the time he delivered.
That’s what describes him best. Rarely will anyone talk about his saves that made sure Real made it past this or that opponent, but they will be quick to point out his blunders along the way. But that comes with the territory.
Casillas knew it and Navas probably knows it too. And he still remains undeniably underappreciated.
Even now Thibaut Courtois has been signed and already dubbed a flop, so who will step up and face the challenge once again? Navas, that’s who. And despite that and Zinedine Zidane’s affection towards his faithful goalie, Madrid are still looking to find a way out of this rotting relationship.
Once again a player who’s given the club the benefit of the doubt, who’s given them his faith and his commitment, could possibly be thrown out the door with the first real chance they get.
We cannot say for certain that it will happen but if it’s happened to people bigger than him then it’s sure bound to happen again.
Gareth Bale is living through that same drama as well. A player with a multitude of crucial goals and triumphs under his belt is being forced out quite disgracefully. For all their pedigree and fame, the Spanish giants certainly lack that human touch and respect for their own heroes; Cristiano Ronaldo was also booed and condemned the first chance they got to do so.
Once the players become dispensable, they’re replaced in a heartbeat, no matter their value. For that reason, it’s not a stretch assuming the same thing will eventually happen to someone of Navas’ stature in the club.
He is far from perfect but he’s been their saviour since 2014, stepping up and patching them up when they needed it the most. With Casillas gone, he jumped into the fray. He played a big part in Zidane’s extremely successful Champions League run and now that Courtois is underperforming he’s ready to take the team on his back once again and adapt, as he has done ever since his arrival.
Why do we always hear rumours and stories about Real wanting to throw him out, then? It’s a question that continues to persist without answer.
But judging by Navas’ character and mentality, when the time finally comes he’ll be ready to, in typical Navas fashion, take another one for the team.