Florentino Perez’s reign as Real Madrid president has always been unusual, to say the least. The last few transfer windows have done nothing to change this. His galactico policy and lack of certain footballing morals have fuelled the construction of unusual Real Madrid teams. Carlo Ancelotti will attest. Perez has a history of poor footballing decisions.
The 2014 summer transfer window epitomised Perez’s strange policies. Reliable midfielders Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria made way for attackers such as James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos. A Champions League winning midfield was overhauled. A player who was on track to be in the running for the Ballon D’Or was sold, albeit for a large wad of cash. Perez was messing with a formula that had brought his side La Decima the previous year.
Yet, despite all these misgivings, I dare say that the sale of Angel Di Maria was the most straightforward decision made by Madrid’s president. It was necessary. The sale financed Florentino’s new toys. Financially, Madrid had a small net spend as well. ‘The Ozil of 2014’ is a great term to describe it. Mesut Ozil found himself under similar circumstances prior to his own sale. The sale was part of a large purge of Real Madrid, as Perez looked to remodel this side into his own Real Madrid after the Mourinho era. Typical from the president. Financially sound, questionable from a sporting perspective.
This brings us to the controversial goalkeeping situation at the club. Spanning 4 years and a plethora of matches, it was destructive. Madrid’s Achilles Heel, perhaps?
The Goalkeeping Saga
August 2011- The second leg of the Spanish super cup comes to a bitter end. Bad blood is everywhere. Iker Casillas calls Xavi and Carlos Puyol, (successfully) making peace between the Spanish players divided by the El Clasicos of the Mourinho era.
December 2012- After a string of matches in which Real Madrid dropped points, Mourinho drops Iker Casillas. Antonio Adan is called up in goal.
January 2013- An eventful month. Antonio Adan gets sent off in the first match of the year, returning Casillas to the starting lineup. Later that month Casillas gets injured, with Madrid buying Diego Lopez from Sevilla. Diego Lopez becomes a regular starter.
June-August 2013- Jose Mourinho leaves Real Madrid, with Carlo Ancelotti arriving as a replacement. Diego Lopez is the league goalkeeper, while Casillas plays in cup competitions.
May 2014- Iker Casillas makes an error, allowing Diego Godin to score in the Champions league final. However, Real Madrid’s eventual victory overshadows his mistake.
June-August 2014- After Casillas’ horrendous errors, the club surprisingly reinstates him as starter. Diego Lopez leaves, Keylor Navas (Costa Rican goalkeeper who performed very well) joins the club expecting to fight for a starting spot.
July 2015- After an average season, Iker Casillas is sold to Porto.
While the goalkeeping situation at the club is predominantly Casillas focused, there have been many casualties, by-products if you will. Jose Mourinho can be seen as one. Diego Lopez had the merit to start for Real Madrid but ended up being sidelined regardless. The one with the most damaged reputation, however, is Keylor Navas.
Keylor Navas was a sensation when he was snapped up by Real Madrid. The keeper was a walking legend. His C.V included single-handedly keeping Levante in La Liga in seasons past; as well as taking Costa Rica to a respectable position in the World Cup, only to be eliminated by Netherlands on penalties. It seemed to be the perfect purchase at the time, the Champions League winners added an impenetrable wall to bolster their side.
This perfect marriage took a turn for the worse when Casillas was reinstated as he full-time starter at Real Madrid. Navas’ role was reduced to a bit-part one. Over time, Casillas’ errors merited Navas’ inclusion in the first team. Yet for some bizarre reason Keylor was not given a more prominent role. A season on the sidelines affected his reflexes too, shown by his errors in his rare outings.
The cost of benching Navas was massive too. Iker Casillas made mistakes on a weekly basis, with his weak hand conceding goals in important situations (read: Champions League semi-final). The eternal rivals Barcelona managed to successfully rotate their keepers to a treble, which was yet another bitter pill to swallow. It didn’t help when the media realized Real madrid did this to similar effect the season before. Navas (unintentionally) dragged Los Blancos into the grave with him.
Winning is a habit. At the time of writing, reports have surfaced that Keylor Navas may be Real Madrid’s starter for the 2015-16 season after all. Consistent starts might allow him to recapture the god-like form that took him to prominence in the first place. Yet one only has to wonder.. why did Los Blancos bench Navas in the first place? It seems vain to blame the goalkeeping situation for Madrid’s pathetic season. Typical fan-fare. But Navas’ consistent shot-stopping could’ve been more than useful in big matches. What could have been?