It was Javier Mascherano who told Sergio Romero ‘today you’ll make yourself a hero’ before he beat away penalties from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder to send Argentina to the World Cup final.
But Miguel Angel Colombatti knew all along that the new Manchester United goalkeeper, known affectionally as ‘El Chiquito’, had it in him to inspire glory.
The first time he saw Romero in action was for Buenos Aires giants Racing Club de Avellaneda in a Argentina youth division final against Boca Juniors. The game went to penalties, and Romero saved three spot-kicks.
‘There are some players that make an impact on you the first time you see them, and that was the case with Romero,’ says Colombatti, a former Racing midfielder then in charge of the club’s youth set up.
‘He always was a great goalkeeper, and he had the right physique. He was very disciplined and he was always working hard and progressing.’
Colombatti’s colleague Fabian Alves felt something similar when he met Romero when the stopper was 17 years-old.
‘From the first time I saw him train I knew he was going to make it. You could see the quality he had, he had a lot of ability, but he also persevered. He trained the hardest of all the kids. He sacrificed himself a lot, he used to work himself to death.’
As well as excelling in goal, Romero had a talent for basketball, one he shares with his brother Diego, now a professional player. In fact, Sergio came close to swapping football for a basketball career when he was 16 after his brother’s club Gimnasia Indalo made him an offer.
Then living 1800km from his family, the prospect of returning to their home in Comodoro Rivadavia was tempting, but father Ramon convinced him to stick with football and stay at Racing.
Although he had to wait until he was 20-year-old to make his first team debut, Racing always had big plans for Romero. Goalkeeping coach Gustavo Pinero took him under his wing and used to take him for extra training sessions at his centre of excellence in La Plata, an hour’s drive from Racing.
The pair formed a special bond. When Romero broke into the Argentina squad under Diego Maradona, he asked for Pinero to be named as goalkeeping coach. And when he famously injured his hand by punching a wall following a match for AZ Alkmaar, Pinero flew over to Holland to aid his recovery. Pinero rejoined Argentina’s coaching staff last year and still speaks to Romero daily.
‘El Chiquito’ finally broke into Racing’s first team aged 20 but only played five matches. His displays for Argentina at the under 20 World Cup in Canada that summer attracted the attention of AZ and their coach Louis van Gaal, and the cash-strapped Racing quickly accepted an 1.5 million euro offer for their custodian. But Alves wishes the club could have enjoyed Romero for longer.
‘The club had recently come out of bankruptcy and needed the money, and an important offer arrived, so that’s why he only played a few games. It was surprising for everyone, he had a great future here but the club didn’t take advantage of him as they could have done — he left very young. I think the club regrets that. But from his point of view you can’t turn an offer like that down and now he’s known all over the world.’
Romero still keeps Racing in his heart. Two years ago he gave a talk to his successors in the club’s academy, bearing gifts of goalkeeping gloves and boots, and says he would like to see out his career there.
Those still at the club are now watching their former protege’s next steps closely.
Romero may be the most capped ever goalkeeper for Argentina, and has won the under 20 World Cup, an Olympic gold medal and reached the finals of the World Cup and the Copa America, but his patchy record at club level requires some explanation. He has spent the last two seasons warming the bench at Monaco and Sampdoria. What makes his former coaches think he will fare any better at United?
‘It’s difficult to know what happens day to day at a club and who he’s competing with,’ says Colombatti.
‘But Van Gaal is the one who took him to Holland, he knows him, he never stopped believing in him. The people who know him know he’s a great goalkeeper, that he’s positive for any group.
‘He’s grounded. He’s not the type that talks a lot and that might make him seem shy, but I don’t think he is. On the pitch he takes on responsibility. He has character. With time he has become one of the leaders of the Argentina squad.
‘Before the World Cup some doubted him. They were worried that something was up because he hadn’t been playing at Monaco. They wondered what level he’d be at, but me and the other coaches never had any doubts. And he proved us right.’
This afternoon at Old Trafford against Tottenham, Romero will be given his chance by his old mentor Van Gaal to disprove the doubters. And, after getting the nod over David de Gea, he can be a hero for his club as well as his country.

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