The Costa Rica international continues to show his quality despite the club’s long-term search for a replacement nearing its conclusion

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In a match that served as a microcosm of his time as Real Madrid’s first-choice goalkeeper, Keylor Navas made the saves he needed to make and helped Los Blancos to another victory in the final match of another tournament.

Though the International Champions Cup finale win over Roma did not carry anywhere near the importance of the three Champions League final victories Navas has played a part in, but Tuesday’s win carried significance in that it may well symbolise the end of Navas’ time as Real Madrid’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Thibaut Courtois’ impending move from Chelsea feels more and more likely with each passing day. Goal reported on Tuesday that Chelsea are prepared to trigger Kepa Arrizabalaga’s €80 million (£71m/$92m) release clause, meaning that by the time the Blancos take the field next week in the UEFA Super Cup, Navas could find himself relegated to the bench, finally left out after spending years as the Iker Casillas replacement nobody wanted despite winning title after title.

It was, after all, the most famous fax machine malfunction in Real Madrid transfer history that paved the way for Navas to become Real Madrid’s starter. David de Gea was long seen as the inevitable heir to Casillas’ throne at Santiago Bernabeu. But a failed last-minute transfer bid, which died out at the hands of a faulty Manchester United fax machine, meant that Navas would get his opportunity.

The Costa Rica international made the most of it, helping Madrid to the first of three successive Champions League titles. He wasn’t just along for the ride either. Navas established himself as a big-game player and fan favourite, and as his trophy count grew, the calls to replace him grew quiet, at least among fans.

Unfortunately for Navas, Madrid never stopped wanting to upgrade. De Gea’s shadow continued to loom and just when it finally appeared as though the Spanish star would stay put at Old Trafford, Madrid set their sights on Courtois.

It did not come as a surprise. After all, Navas endured one of his tougher seasons in goal, with mistakes coming more frequently than before. But Navas had continued to find a way to deliver in the biggest of matches, as his form in the Champions League knockout rounds showed.

Navas did not have much to do on Tuesday night, with his first-half stop from a good shot from Edin Dzeko serving as his main highlight. But it seemed fitting that he played the full match and helped his side to a win – he would have even secured a clean sheet had some shoddy marking not left Kevin Strootman unmarked in the six-yard box.

Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui once again refused to acknowledge the Courtois rumours when asked about the matter post-matc. Instead he chose to defend Navas when asked about where he stands within the team.

“Keylor is our goalkeeper,” Lopetegui said after the match. “He’s here. There is no other goalkeeper we can talk about. Keylor, Kiko (Casilla), Luca (Zidane) and (Andriy) Lunin are the ones I can speak about.”

“Keylor is phenomenal. He’s been phenomenal all pre-season. He’s an extraordinary goalkeeper. He’s delighted to be with Real Madrid and we’re delighted to have him with us.”

Lopetegui’s praise sounded like that of a manager who won’t necessarily hand over the starting job to Courtois if the Belgian does make the move. Navas has earned the right to fight for his role, but given the investment expected to be made, it will be tough to see Navas holding off Courtois for long.

There will be no tears shed if Navas does wind up losing his place in the starting XI. After all, he watched on as a legend’s time at Real Madrid ended, backing up Casillas during his final campaign as starter, and this summer’s departure of Cristiano Ronaldo offered a clear reminder that Madrid are a club that stands still for no one.

Navas is still just 31 and even if he winds up spending the upcoming season as Courtois’ back-up, he should be able to generate transfer interest in the summer of 2019. There will be no shame in Navas having to move on to earn minutes elsewhere, just as there was no shame in Casillas moving to Porto in 2015.

No matter what happens from here on out, Navas has a place in Real Madrid history given his role in the recent European triumphs. It is that track record that makes it feel a bit unjust that he is being pushed aside, and it is that history that made Tuesday’s match feel like the end of an unlikely era.

Mittie B Brack News

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