The most decorated played at the Parc des Princes isn’t Kylian Mbappe or Neymar or even Angel Di Maria. Indeed, Paris Saint-Germain’s most successful player in terms of major honours won is Keylor Navas, who is a three-times Champions League winner. He, more than anyone else at the club, knows what it takes to be a European champion.
Yet Navas is often overlooked as one of PSG’s best, and most important, players. This was highlighted by the Costa Rican’s performance in the Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich, when he was required to make a number of crucial saves. An inferior goalkeeper would have buckled.
Rather remarkably, Tuesday night’s aggregate win over Bayern Munich means Navas still hasn’t lost a two-legged Champions League knockout tie he has played in. His record at the top level of the European game is better than any other goalkeeper’s over the last 10 years, so why isn’t he afforded more recognition?
Navas hasn’t had it easy over the course of his career. Rising through the Spanish second division and into La Liga with Levante, the Costa Rican earned a move to Real Madrid on the back of his performances for his country at the 2014 World Cup. However, Navas was never really viewed as a true ‘Galactico.’
Barely a summer passed without Real Madrid trying to offload Navas - most notably, he was included in the proposed deal to sign David de Gea from Manchester United in 2015. Despite outstanding performances in the biggest matches, the Spanish giants always wanted a bigger name on the back of their number one shirt.
Thibaut Courtois was signed in the summer of 2018 despite there being no real need for a new goalkeeper at the Santiago Bernabeu. Courtois’ early struggles at Real Madrid suggested Navas would once again handle the competition for his place, as he had with Iker Casillas, but a move to PSG materialised a year later.
For some reason, Navas is seen as an unfashionable figure. Maybe it’s down to his nationality. Perhaps if Navas was German or Spanish rather than Costa Rican he would be more readily recognised as one of the best goalkeepers of his generation. Maybe it’s his height - 6ft 1” isn’t especially tall for a player in his position in the modern age.
What Navas lacks in height, however, he more than makes up for in reflexes and agility. He is more commanding in his own box than many taller goalkeepers - this quality was tested against Bayern Munich whose whole game plan in the second plan revolved around playing as many crosses into the middle as possible.
Without Navas, PSG’s whole season might have panned out very differently. The 34-year-old has kept 17 clean sheets in 36 appearances (all competitions) this season, masking the vulnerabilities of a sometimes shaky defence. PSG’s squad is unbalanced and lopsided, but Navas means they can just about get away with that.
“Keylor is one of the best goalies in the world,” PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino said after a particularly impressive performance by the goalkeeper earlier this month “I'm very happy he's with us.” At least Pochettino recognises the quality of his number one, acknowledging the Costa Rican’s place among the best.
Ordinarily, Champions League glory would elevate common opinion of a player, but Navas has already sampled this three times before and is still overlooked. With all the focus on the players putting the ball in the net for PSG at one end of the pitch, don’t forget who is keeping it out at the other end.
The world's current 10 best goalkeepers
Best goalkeepers in the world right now
1. Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)
2. Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)
3. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
4. Keylor Navas (PSG)
5. Ederson (Man City)
6. Alisson Becker (Liverpool)
7. Samir Handanovic (Inter)
8. Yassine Bonou (Sevilla)
9. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
10. Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)