Louis van Gaal has history with new Manchester United signing Sergio Romero: we look at the rise of a goalkeeper that the Dutchman discovered, later to his cost.
Article top media content
With your first-choice goalkeeper the subject of transfer speculation and his understudy set to leave, you have to make a signing, and Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has opted for a player who previously helped him to one of his many club successes – Sergio Romero.
The Argentina goalkeeper, who has signed a three-year deal with the UEFA Champions League play-off entrants, was signed by Van Gaal in 2007 for AZ Alkmaar. It proved the making of Romero; we look at the journey that has taken the 28-year-old to Old Trafford, where he is reunited with the Dutchman.
A youth product of Racing Club de Avellaneda, Romero made his senior debut aged 19 in 2006, and by the following March had been snapped up by Van Gaal's AZ. By the time he arrived in the summer, he had already helped Argentina to victory in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.
Signed as understudy to Boy Waterman, Romero declared: "I'm proud to have Van Gaal as coach; he has great experience and a lot of knowledge that will help me in my career." By the end of September, Romero had made an unexpected debut after injury to Waterman, but he was not a regular until the following season.
The 2008/09 campaign proved a memorable one for AZ, Van Gaal and Romero. Having finished 11th the previous year, Alkmaar stormed to only their second Eredivisie title by 11 points, conceding just 22 goals in 34 games, including 18 Romero clean sheets.
In the middle was a sensational run where Romero did not concede for 950 minutes. His frustration at letting a goal in against NAC Breda in the Dutch Cup quarter-finals led to him punching a dressing room wall, breaking his hand, and being sidelined for two months. "That's the Argentinian temperament," mused Van Gaal.
Speaking of Argentina, Romero had taken 2008 Olympic gold and by then next year had been handed a senior debut by Diego Maradona. It was a long way from his earlier spell on the bench, telling NRC Handelsblad newspaper: "It was eight months, it felt like eight years! When I got the chance, I wanted to show what I could do. You wonder why you came to the Netherlands. You're going to think 'I should have stayed in Argentina'. I was told nothing. I could only wait. Fortunately I had support from my family. Later I realised that this is part of football. "
In the summer of 2009 Van Gaal left AZ for Bayern München, while Romero gained his first experience of the UEFA Champions League, but the success under their previous coach was not matched. Romeo nevertheless remained Argentina's first-choice goalkeeper at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and a year later was taken to Italy by Sampdoria.
The Genoa side were newly-relegated but Romero helped them back to Serie A, before a 2013/14 loan to Monaco when he found himself second choice. That led to calls for him to be replaced as Argentina's first choice at the World Cup in Brazil, but Romero performed superbly as his side reached the final, keeping a clean sheet in the semi-final against Van Gaal's Netherlands before saving twice in the shoot-out win. Van Gaal mused: "I taught Romero how to stop penalties so that hurts. We were the club to bring him to Europe. He was a big talent, and someone who has the qualities to do that."
Romero himself said: "I went to Louis to thank him because he helped me when I arrived in Holland. I went to a country where I didn't understand a word of the language, he helped me and I'm thankful for everything he did for me. I know he said he 'taught' me to save penalties. The truth is that he teaches the players a lot, how to grow and pay more attention."
Van Gaal was next off to Manchester United but with David de Gea in the team, and later Víctor Valdés as back-up, he did not need Romero, who instead regained his place with Sampdoria and helped them finish seventh in 2014/15. That was the end of his spell in Italy, as with Valdés set to leave and De Gea the subject of constant speculation, Van Gaal took Romero to Old Trafford.
Van Gaal explained: "In our circumstances, with the threat that De Gea is going to Real Madrid, we have to prepare for the season and Sergio Romero can fulfil that. You have to handle very quickly when it may happen with David de Gea. I have of course spoken with Sergio and also with David and with me always the best shall be in the lineup so you have to fight. In a top club like Manchester United you need always competition."
So Romero may not start as first choice at Old Trafford. But he was not when he initially came to Alkmaar either, and that started a journey that included a league title and, at Van Gaal's expense, a World Cup final. No wonder he'd much rather have Romero on his side.