Amid the chaotic outpour of joy expressed by the Argentinian players upon reaching the 2014 World Cup Final, Sergio Romero gave time to give thanks. That is, not to his teammates, or Argentina head Coach Alejandro Sabella, but to the opposing gaffer, and his now new coach at Manchester United, Louis van Gaal.
After all, van Gaal was the man to bring the unproven 20-year-old to Europe at AZ Alkmaar from Racing Club in his homeland. Romero soon became a key figure in the Dutch side as his team were the surprising victors of the Eredivisie title in 2009. That campaign proved to be a breakthrough one for Romero, who kept a 950 minute clean sheet record from November to February. This ended following a 2-1 loss in the quarter finals of the KNVB Cup to NAC Breda, in which a mistake from the stopper led to a late winning goal for Nourdin Boukhari.
Romero’s response to the late goal could have proved costly to his side’s fortunes, as his anger-fuelled reaction of punching the tunnel wall led to him spending a couple of months on the side-lines with a broken hand as AZ embarked on the run-in to the title. He made his return in April, and kept his place as AZ won the title. Romero then got his first taste of European competition the following season, playing in both the Champions League and Europa League.
Following van Gaal’s departure to German giants Bayern Munich, Romero also sought a new challenge with Sampdoria in the Italian second division. The Genoa-based outfit saw immediate promotion back to the top flight with Romero firmly established between the sticks, before he was unexpectedly carted off to Monaco on a season-long loan the following campaign.
It was there that Romero endured a frustrating campaign as he failed to depose Danijel Subasic from the no. 1 slot. Despite being picked to play for Argentina, the keeper failed to make an impact at the principality-based side, making only three league appearances as Monaco came runners-up to league winners Paris Saint-Germain. It has become something of a recurring theme for the South American, who is held in the highest esteem at international level.
An Olympic gold medallist at the 2008 games in Beijing, in addition to the Under-20 World Cup title, he kept goal in all four games at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa under Diego Maradona. Four years later, he repeated the feat for Sabella by playing every game for the Argentines as they reached the pinnacle, sweetly held in the Maracana, the sacred home of their greatest rivals Brazil; and all this despite barely featuring for Monaco.
Labelled the potential weak link in a star-studded squad, Romero soon proved his doubters wrong by turning in a string of fine performances. The early attention did not go to his head however, as he kept clean sheets against Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. He followed up on the latter by haunting the Dutch in the resulting penalty shootout, saving spot-kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder, projecting himself into Argentinian folklore. Only a single shot from Mario Gotze wrecked Romero and Argentina’s World Cup dream but his reputation had been hugely enhanced by the whole experience.
Bizarrely, this did not translate to his club football as he was again resigned to the bench behind new Sampdoria ‘keeper Emiliano Viviano.
Romero made 11 appearances in total in the 2014/2015 season and, predictably, elected to leave following his contacts expiration this summer. The chance to link up with van Gaal again proved to be one too good to pass up on as he arrived at Old Trafford to challenge number 1 David De Gea for a starting berth.
With it looking likely that Victor Valdes is to depart from the Theatre of Dreams, Romero’s capture looks to be smart business for a club who look to build on last season’s resurgence and head a title charge. Under van Gaal’s tutelage once again, now is the perfect chance for the stopper to stand tall once more, and prepare to again embrace the spotlight.