The inside story of how Nottingham Forest signed Keylor Navas
Keylor Navas has lifted more European trophies than his new club Nottingham Forest, and his arrival this week stunned football fans around the world.
Shortly after Tuesday’s transfer deadline, it was announced that the three-times Champions League winner would be joining Forest from Paris St-Germain for the rest of the season.
A little over two years ago, Navas was widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and he has the CV to match.
It is further evidence of the Premier League’s lure, and also a sign of Forest’s progress that they can persuade such a legendary figure to commit himself to 18 matches.
Just days into this surprise chapter of a stellar career, his aura and winning mentality has already sprinkled stardust across the training ground.
So how did it happen? How did Forest get into a position where Navas, who won 12 trophies in five years at Real Madrid, was on their radar?
The wheels were set in motion when Dean Henderson sustained a thigh injury in the final minutes of the 2-0 victory over Leicester City on January 14.
Forest had already suffered a scare early last month when Henderson’s parent club Manchester United announced their intention to exercise a recall clause, following Martin Dubravka’s return to Newcastle.
Henderson insisted he would prefer to stay at the City Ground, which was a huge relief for Steve Cooper, but the injury meant Forest had to now focus on signing a new goalkeeper.
A second scan revealed that Henderson would be out for longer than first anticipated, and even now he could be sidelined for up to another four weeks.
Forest drew up a shortlist of potential signings, and it was Evangelos Marinakis, the club’s owner, who threw the name of Navas into the mix. Many at the club feared it would be a total non-starter.
Sergio Rico, another PSG goalkeeper, and Dinamo Zagreb’s Dominik Livakovic were other targets and considered far more likely to be available.
Yet when Forest’s sporting director Filippo Giraldi contacted PSG’s football advisor Luis Campos, the response was surprisingly positive.
Crucially, Navas was on board and one of the first things he said to Forest was along the lines of “you have a cup semi-final against Manchester United and I want to play”.
His agent, Jorge Mendes, has also completed many deals before with Marinakis at his other club, Olympiacos, so that relationship was already there.
The proposed loan deal was complicated, though, and took weeks to sort out. PSG also changed their mind many times on whether to let Navas go.
PSG wanted him to stay as the No 2 goalkeeper behind Gianluigi Donnarumma, arguing that Navas’ presence pushed the Italian more and maintained high standards.
On the morning of deadline day, the deal was completely off.
Forest had resigned themselves to it not happening, but Navas kept pushing.
Finally, at around 5pm UK time it was revived, and Forest had to move quickly before the cut-off point.
Navas underwent his medical in Paris and paperwork was exchanged between the two clubs shortly before 11pm.
It will be a straight loan until the end of this season, with PSG continuing to pay a huge proportion of the 36-year-old’s wages. Many people are still struggling to believe it has happened.
Cooper said: “He comes in with an unbelievable CV, and it’s great that he really wanted to come.
“He showed a big commitment to coming here and that’s always a reassuring thing with any new player. I wouldn’t allow a player here if I didn’t get that feeling, so it was a massive ingredient.
“I see John McGovern [Forest’s two-times European Cup winner] here every day and said to him, ‘how does it feel to have someone here who has won more than you’?
“He said he was pleased because it means we’re making progress. I haven’t had a chance to introduce them yet but I will.”
Navas was the sixth new arrival in January, with Andre Ayew taking the number of signings this season to 29 on Thursday after joining as a free agent.
Forest were keen to prioritise experience as they fight to avoid relegation, with the focus very much on the present.
That explains the strategy behind the arrivals of Jonjo Shelvey and Chris Wood, seasoned campaigners from Newcastle who know the league and have played in high-pressure matches.
Felipe, 33, was also recruited from Atletico Madrid as it was felt that players of that age would complement the club’s exciting young talents like Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson.
Forest believe Gibbs-White could eventually play for England if he continues his upward momentum.
There was also an eye on the future. The most expensive signing in January was Danilo, the £18m midfielder from Palmeiras.
Recommended to Giraldi – who signed another young Brazilian, Richarlison, at Watford – by an external recruitment team regularly used by Forest, it was decided that it was a deal worth pursuing.
Forest signed Danilo two weeks into the window as they feared the price would be exorbitant if they had waited until the final seven days. Negotiations were far from simple in any case.
A versatile “No 6”, Danilo is 21 and regarded as a player with high potential, but with the temperament to succeed as he has regularly performed in front of 60,000 people in Brazil.
Forest’s planning for next season is already underway. On Thursday there was a meeting between Giraldi and other senior officials, where potential signings were discussed.
It is regarded as imperative for the short and long-term that Forest stay up, in order to progress.
If Forest do retain their Premier League status, they do not intend to be as active in the summer. The strategy would be to add four or five high-quality players.
Henderson, the United loanee, can be revealed as one of their top targets. Forest are keen to sign him permanently in the summer and believe Henderson’s decision to reject a return to Old Trafford in January can be seen as a big positive.
Survival is the only priority now, and Forest face Leeds at home on Sunday with their new goalkeeper expected to start.
The stakes will be high, and the pressure immense, but Navas has seen it all before.