Madrid, Aug 10 : Real Madrid will start the season with something it hasn’t had in years: Competition over who will start in goal.
Thibaut Courtois was introduced by Madrid on Thursday, setting up a rivalry with Keylor Navas, the Spanish team’s goalkeeper when it won the last three Champions League titles.
Despite often being criticized, Navas hasn’t had to seriously compete for the starting position in goal since taking over from club idol Iker Casillas, who was the team’s main ‘keeper for more than a decade until leaving for Porto in 2015.
The last time the position was competitive came after Casillas got injured in 2013 and lost his position to Diego Lopez, who remained as the starter for some time after Casillas recovered.
The 26-year-old Courtois arrived from Chelsea touted as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, finishing third with Belgium at the World Cup where he won the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
But Courtois isn’t getting over-confident.
“Nobody has given me any guarantees about being the starter,” Courtois said at his presentation with Madrid on Thursday. “It would be a mistake for the club to do that. I’ll have to show I deserve to be the starter during the training sessions. That’s how it should be. I was never given guarantees in any of the clubs where I played. I arrived at Chelsea when (Petr) Cech was there and I ended playing. I arrive to give my best, then the coach will decide who will be the starter.”
Navas has succeeded with Madrid but the club has been linked with a new goalkeeper in nearly every transfer window since he became the first choice in 2015.
Madrid tried to sign David De Gea from Manchester United after Casillas left but it missed a deadline and the deal didn’t go through. Last season, the club reportedly also tried to sign Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Spain international who has joined Chelsea as Courtois’ replacement. Madrid was also linked to Brazil goalkeeper Alisson, who ended transferring from Roma to Liverpool.
Kiko Casillas was Navas’ reserve last season, and Luca Zidane, son of the team’s former player and coach Zinedine Zidane, has been included in the squad this season. Madrid earlier this year also signed 19-year-old Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.
According to Spanish media, Navas said he is not worried about Courtois’ arrival, while the Belgian is welcoming the competition.
“I’ve met Keylor, we’ve had a little chat,” Courtois said in a news conference at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. “From what people have told me, he’s a really great guy, and from a professional point of view, I consider him a fantastic goalkeeper as well. I come in with absolute respect and to compete at the top level.”
Coach Julen Lopetegui, making his debut with Madrid this season, will make his first decision about the starting goalkeeper when Madrid faces Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday.
Courtois, who played three years with Atletico, said he still isn’t in top form following the World Cup, but will be ready to play in the Super Cup if needed.
“I feel great, we’ll have to wait and see,” Courtois said.