With a save success rate of 78 per cent, Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas is statistically the best goalkeeper in Spain, and in March won La Liga's Player of the Month award. The Costa Rica international also conceded the fewest goals in the final round Hexagonal of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
His performances have led to rumours that a move to a bigger club such as AC Milan, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona may be on the horizon, but for now the player is in no hurry. “I’m a Levante player, and I’ll continue to give my all for the team. We’ll see what happens in the future,” said Navas, who began his career at Deportivo Saprissa before moving to Albacete in 2010.
*FIFA.com *spoke to the 27 year-old about his life in Spain and the daunting challenge facing Costa Rica in Brazil, where the team has been drawn in a group with three former World Cup winners: Uruguay, Italy and England.
How does it feel to be considered the best goalkeeper in what is a very tough Spanish league?
I’m delighted and very grateful, mainly because I’ve been able to stay healthy and keep improving. I try to take everything in my stride and remain humble, and to enjoy playing as much as possible. It’s a very competitive league and standards are very high, so to have my performances recognised in this way makes me very happy.
The time difference made things difficult, so we all slept at the house of one friend and then woke up in the middle of the night to watch the games. It was a lot of fun.
Speaking of improving, who do you think you can learn from?
Each of the top goalkeepers has a particular quality to teach me. I look at Diego Lopez, Iker Casillas, Víctor Valdes, Gianluigi Buffon… they all have tremendous experience and ability, and have spent years proving they are the best.
In recent years more and more players from Costa Rica have moved to Europe. Do you consider yourself to be a pioneer?The players who have been in Europe for a while have always tried to represent our country well, so that the football world can see that Costa Rican players are talented and have lots of potential. We tried to open the doors for those who had the ambition and the dedication to follow the same path.
And how does the national team help with this process?
It’s very important. Acquiring international experience helps us to mature in lots of ways, and when we get together with the national team each player brings a little bit of what he has learnt, which makes the squad more complete.
Costa Rica qualified in second place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal and conceded just seven goals - the fewest in the competition. How do you explain the team’s change in style?
We worked hard on our defending and improved that side of our game a lot. We concentrated on improving communication between the goalkeeper and the defence, and we treated each training game as if it were a real match. And that helped us to feel good about the way we play and to get comfortable with the system, and we soon saw the results.
What part did Jorge Luis Pinto play in helping the team qualify for Brazil?
He made us work hard. He’s very demanding. We have worked hard in all areas, but especially on our organisation as a team. I think it was something we needed, and now we’re a much more organised side.
What is your first memory of the FIFA World Cup?
Korea/Japan 2002. I watched all the Costa Rica games with my friends from school. The time difference made things difficult, so we all slept at the house of one friend and then woke up in the middle of the night to watch the games. It was a lot of fun.
*At least Costa Ricans won’t have to stay up all night to watch the games during Brazil 2014. But now it’s down to you to make people back home happy. The fans seem a little pessimistic about the team’s chances in Group D. Are you more hopeful? *
Of course! Nothing is impossible. The other teams in the group are all very strong with great World Cup records. But this is something that motivates us. It’s a great challenge in our lives and in our careers as footballers. But we will have to do our talking on the pitch. We’ll bring a lot of enthusiasm and will stay positive for the whole 90 minutes.
Let’s look at the teams one by one. You played in goal when Uruguay beat Costa Rica in the 2010 World Cup South Africa qualifying play-off. What do you remember about the defeat? Is it time to get revenge?
We were knocked out because we lost the first game in Costa Rica. That was what turned the tie in Uruguay’s favour, because in Montevideo we managed to get a draw, which was a respectable result. They’re tough memories, but we can’t ignore them. We didn’t enjoy losing, but now we have the opportunity to write a new chapter in the history books. But it’s not about revenge. It’s the World Cup and we desperately want to get off to the best possible start.
Uruguay have some great players, like Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Who scares you the most?
They’re all great players, but we can’t show them too much respect. Our mission is to try and make their lives as difficult as possible while sticking to our game plan. We can’t allow them to get comfortable at any time.
England have Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge. What is your opinion of the Roy Hodgson's team? They have a very strong squad. Individually each player is important. We can’t relax at all.
And to finish we have Italy with Rossi, Balotelli, Pirlo. Is it a dream or a nightmare to play against a team like that?
I play in a very competitive league and every Sunday I come up against some of the best players in the world, so I stopped being nervous about facing big-name players a long time ago. I feel quite relaxed. For me it’s a great challenge to play against the best. It will test us to the limit and allow us to find out just how good we are. They’re all great players. But we have one big advantage. They’re so well known that we know all about their strengths. So we just need to make sure we defend as well as we can.
With so many big names, who will you swap your shirt with at the end of the game?
Maybe Buffon. It will be a great game, a good contest.
How have you approached the final games of the season, leading up to the World Cup? A number of players, such as Victor Valdes, have suffered injuries. Do you worry about that happening to you? Are you playing a little more cautiously at the moment?
I put everything in the hands of God. He takes care of us and helps us. If he wants me to play in the World Cup, he’ll protect me. If it isn’t his plan, then I have to keep working, making the most of every day, and not get distracted by other goals.