Levante possessing a star, however unlikely a source it may be, doesn't seem to fit the bill. Since their return to La Liga it's been all about the team, the unit, and sacrifice. Keylor Navas has taken that to another level, sacrificing himself on a weekly basis for the team.
The Costa Rican goalkeeper has become a symbol of this current La Liga campaign in general, let alone just Levante, rising from being a virtual unknown to become a hero for his side. This is a goalkeeper outshining the very best in Spain - a country that is certainly not short on goalkeeping talent. A WhoScored rating of 7.21 makes Navas the highest rated goalkeeper in La Liga, and it’s not difficult to see why.
This past weekend he was at it again, producing another stunning solo show to keep another clean sheet – his 9th overall – with only Thibaut Courtois and Victor Valdés achieving more. It’s not just La Liga he’s lighting up though, as his talents have seen his numbers impress all across Europe. WhoScored’s rating system has only Vito Mannone higher in terms of goalkeepers, as Navas this past weekend leapfrogged the highly rated Marc-André ter Stegen into 2nd place.
It was the latest in a string of sensational performances. He won his team a precious point against Barcelona, before going one further by keeping Sevilla’s attack at bay and making sure his team gained all three. The latter was a game Sevilla should’ve been leading 4 or 5-0.
They knew Navas would be a factor, but perhaps not to this degree. The highlight being a stunning save from Ivan Rakitic’s header, and it prompted a poignant comment from one local journalist in Valencia; “If that Navas save from Rakitic had been from López, Iker [Casillas] or Valdés it would be replayed on TV 100 times before tomorrow morning”. Rakitic's header was arrowing towards the bottom corner but the outstretched fingers of Navas propelled it off the line. The Croatian's face, as Antoine Griezmann's did this past weekend, resembled someone encountering the paranormal.
Navas' 7 saves in the game against Real Sociedad went some way to achieving another unlikely point. It took his number of saves to 98 for the season, with that total now the most in La Liga. What’s more, 53 of them have come from shots from inside the box – only Willy Caballero, with 55, has made more in this area. “You couldn’t let us have a goal, you son of a bitch” one Real Sociedad player joked with Navas post-game, who smiled and walked away.
Navas hasn’t had enough though, and is already setting his sights on another victim. On the plane back from San Sebastian after another successful night between the sticks, the goalkeeper was sat with an iPad in his lap and various presentations on PowerPoint prepared by Levante’s coaching staff. He’s usually handed 7 or 8 videos of the opponents most dangerous players a week before the game, focusing on their shot technique and how they move in the penalty area. The studying is providing Navas with top marks, as only 6 teams have conceded fewer goals than Levante.
Luis Llopis is the man who works with Navas the most, as Levante’s goalkeeping coach; “Keylor is difficult to beat from distance, and is incredible in reaction shots. His speed allows him to achieve double saves, and move around the goal swiftly”, he said to El País. It makes him ideal for a Joaquín Caparrós team as history shows they usually defend in an extremely deep block. WhoScored backs up that notion too, with 50% of Levante’s opponents’ shots coming from inside of the box.
Goalkeepers are often seen as interesting, off-beat characters and Navas doesn't buck that trend. He’s a deeply personal, introvert character who counts his family and religion alongside goalkeeping as his main passions. Asked post-la Real game if he’d be celebrating with a glass of wine, the calm Navas replied, “It’ll be unlikely”. Before every game Navas is seen dropping to his knees, spreading his arms, and praying while looking to the sky. This season, however, his opponents have perhaps been the ones requiring their own divine intervention to beat the 27-year-old.
Interest is now growing in the Costa Rican by the day, with Atlético Madrid being touted as the main suitors. With Courtois probably experiencing his final season with the club it makes perfect sense to eye up such an influential replacement. Navas, who nearly moved to Fulham in 2011, still has improvements to make. With just 15 good high claims he’s relatively weak in the air, the 11th overall in La Liga in fact, and if he was to replace such an immense figure like Courtois it will be an area to build upon. The Belgian, with 37 good high claims, has at least 9 more than anyone else in La Liga.
The positives do outweigh the negatives though, for a player who will see his current deal expire in 2015 and has a release clause of €10m. Just look at his save success rate for instance. A 73.1% average is the fourth best in La Liga behind Valdés, Courtois and Roberto – but the caveat to that is Levante are conceding more shots than them all. The 17.7 shots conceded per game by Caparrós’ side is the most in La Liga, handing Navas a far heavier workload than his counterparts between the sticks.
Not that Navas will mind though - idle hands are the devils work after all. The man who is leaving opposition attackers without a prayer wants to keep on saving his team again and again. Just don't expect a bottle of wine to be uncorked in celebration, it will more likely be another file on his opponents opened up.
Could Navas be an adequate replacement for Courtois this summer? Let us know in the comments below