The Real Madrid goalkeeper was turned down due to his slight stature as a youngster in his homeland, but he has gone on to reach the very top in Spain
It has been three years since one of Costa Rica’s most memorable achievements on the football field. Reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Brazil not only put the Central American nation on the map for fans of the sport around the world, but also catapulted one of its biggest players to stardom.
Keylor Navas was the icon of the Costa Rican revolution. Then a Levante player, the goalkeeper shone with some superb showings at Brazil 2014 and it earned him a move to Real Madrid, with a transfer sealed just a month later. After the competition, there was also homage and tributes in his homeland – and especially in his city: Perez Zeledon.
There, he was welcomed as a hero. Driven through town in a convertible car to an enormous stage where he was praised by numerous personalities and handed the keys to the city, Navas was lauded by thousands of football fans. But perhaps the biggest tribute of all would come days later, when the local government called for the name of the city’s municipal stadium to be renamed Estadio Municipal Keylor Navas Gamboa.
However, between the age of 12 and 14, when he still turned out for the humble Escuela de Futbol Pedregoso, Navas went along to local team Club Municipal Perez Zeledon for a trial. It was the club his father had played for and had special significance for Keylor, but he was rejected for being too small. A tough blow for the young Navas, yet one he overcame to the extent that he ending up giving his name to the stadium of the team that turned him down.
Well, almost. Because legislation in Costa Rica only allows such names to be used when the person paid homage to has passed away. So the stadium kept its original name, but even today there is regret at Club Municipal Perez Zeledon at missing out on a player who would become the country’s most famous footballer – and a global icon with Real Madrid.
However, his early days were anything but easy. At the age of eight, Keylor joined Escuela de Futbol Pedregoso. The signing was masterminded by Juan de Dios Madriz, the school’s founder. “He could kick with both feet; he was small but agile,” he has said.
Juan de Dios sought out the young goalkeeper after hearing he was a talented shot-stopper. He spoke to Keylor’s mother, Sandra, and agreed to take him to training on his 80cc Suzuki motorbike. Navas’ parents had to go to the United States for work reasons, so it was the boy’s grandparents that raised him back in Costa Rica. His grandfather Juan – who Keylor treats almost as a father – also took him to games and drove him around in a green Toyota that was described as “pretty old”.
From Escuela de Futbol Pedregoso, and after being rejected by Club Municipal Perez Zeledon, Keylor moved on years later to Deportivo Saprissa in the capital, San Jose. And from there, to Albacete, Levante and Real Madrid, writing a story that is well known today.
One of the first things he did after signing for Madrid was to buy a car for his grandfather: a brand new KIA. It was recognition for all his work in helping Keylor to be what he is today, back when he was just a boy and nobody imagined that he would lend his name to the city’s stadium, much less win two Champions League titles with the world’s most successful club.