The lowdown of United's new signing: Sergio Romero
Sergio Romero has had to contend with ups and downs throughout his career but his undoubted highlight came at Louis van Gaal’s expenses during the semi-final of World Cup 2014. The current United manager was the man who brought the largely unproven 20-year-old to Europe from Racing Club in Argentina and made him as 1st-choice goalkeeper at AZ Alkmaar. Being a key figure in that team which surprisingly won the 2009 Eredivisie title, he soon followed it up with a run of 950 mins without conceding a goal in the following campaign, only 107 mins off the all-time Dutch record. One game in the Champions League against Arsenal in 2009 when AZ earned a 1-1 draw with a late equaliser proved his fondness for the big stage with Robin van Persie being 1 of those left shaking his head as the keeper’s MOTM display upset Arsene Wenger’s side. It is clear that van Gaal rates the South American highly and even forgiving him for a flash of temper in the tunnel following a cup exit to NAC Breda which then saw him punching a door and broke his hand.
The injury could not have been more poorly timed as AZ embarked on the run-in to the title but his manager hid his own anger on the matter as he reasoned: “That is his Argentine temperament though it was not smart on him to vent frustrations like this.” As van Gaal then departed for Bayern Munich, Romero left the Netherlands and accepting a fresh challenge at Sampdoria in Italy’s Serie B. The Genoa-based side gained promotion to top flight with the Argentinian between the posts and he was a regular the following term before a switch to Monaco on season-long loan but the move to the French Ligue 1 club was frustrating one as he lost out to Danijel Subasic for the no.1 slot. He later conceded: “It was unusual. Alex Sabella play me for Argentina but I did not have the same luck at my club.” It has been recurring theme for Romero who is held in a highest esteem at international level. Being an Olympic gold medallist of 2008 to winning the Under-20 World Cup, he kept goal for Diego Maradona’s team at the World Cup in all 4 games in South Africa.
Just 4 years later, Sabella displayed similar faith in Romero despite his lack of involvement at Monaco. Deemed a potential weak link in a star-studded Argentina squad before a ball had been kicked, he proved any doubters wrong by performing superbly with one miraculous save in a nervous group win over Iran. Yet, that attention did not go to his head as he then kept clean sheets in knockout matches against Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. After semi-final stalemate in Sao Paulo, he returned to haunt van Gaal in a penalty shootout and destroyed the Dutchman’s dream to scoop the biggest prize of all. Romero saved spot-kicks from both Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder, projected himself into Argentinian folklore and earned ‘Hands of God’ headlines the morning after. Compared to Sergio Goycochea, he was almost seen as deserving of his mantle as most-capped Argentine keeper ever, displacing World Cup-winner of 1978 and legendary figure Ubaldo Fillol in top position.
Fillol was his idol. Romero stated: “When it comes to football, ‘El Pato’ is my father. Everything I have achieved is down to him. He is the best Argentina has ever had and there should not be anyone who goes past him.” Yet nobody was disputing Romero’s right to his own star billing in 2004. Van Gaal said: “I taught Romero how to stop penalties, so that hurts. We were the club to bring him to Europe, big talent and one who has the qualities to do that.” Romero sought for the Netherlands coach amid the mixture of joy and despair at the Arena de Sao Paulo with the keeper remembering the part which his former manager had played to help him reached such a career high. He disclosed: “I went to van Gaal and thanked him because he helped me when I arrived in Holland, so I am thankful for what he did for me. He said that he ‘taught’ me to save penalties and the truth is that he teaches most of the players a lot, how to grow and paying more attention on the pitch. From the very 1st day in Holland, he told me that the keeper is 1 of the team, 1 of 11 players.”
However, a single shot from Germany’s Mario Gotze wrecked Romero and Argentina’s World Cup dream but his reputation had been hugely enhanced. Yet again, it did not translate to club level as he returned to Sampdoria after the loan at Monaco and once again, was consigned to the bench. Emiliano Viviano donned the gloves and the man who had achieved superstardom a couple of months earlier was left kicking his heels. He conceded: “I cannot do this for much longer. The same thing happened to me in France, arrived when the transfer window is nearly closed and having to wait for opportunity.” Rumours were rife that he rejected a move to Old Trafford around that point but he was quick to refute. He complained: “Many lies have been spread like for example, I refused the transfer to United. To me, something like that is crazy.” He played 11 times in all, once in the Coppa Italia and predictably, did not renew his contract with the Serie A side and ensuring that he became in the words of media : ‘1 of the summer’s most attractive free agents’.
The chance to link up with van Gaal again could not be passed up and he flew to the US to seal his transfer to the Reds. Nicknamed ‘Chiquito’ despite his 6ft 3in frame, it was not an ironic joke because his brothers are giants particularly basketball-playing Diego. So, it is a good chance for Romero to stand tall again and prepare to embrace the spotlight.