For a time, Sergio Romero was accustomed to not being wanted.
Shipped off for a loan spell in Monaco by club side Sampdoria, the goalkeeper played only a handful of matches in 2013-14 as the principality outfit preferred Danijel Subasic to the Argentine.
Then, with his country’s World Cup squad about to be announced, Romero suddenly found himself the subject of criticism back home.
“Not playing means you lose distance, a competitive edge,” remarked 1978 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol, according to The Telegraph's Marcela Mora y Araujo. “It really is a problem.”
Thankfully for Romero, who won the Under-20 World Cup in 2007, manager Alejandro Sabella wasn’t as skeptical as everyone else. The 27-year-old was handed a crucial start against Romania in March, and after posting a clean sheet, he was named to Sabella’s 23-man roster.
“Sabella is a coach who is always aware of how one is both physically and emotionally,” Romero told Telam last month, per Goal.com's Matthew Rogerson. “I got messages from the coach or his goalkeeping coaches to check on me, even though I was not playing [at Monaco]. For that I can only be grateful that Sabella gave me continuity.”
He has repaid his manager’s faith with a series of clean sheets in Brazil.
Following Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, Romero’s shutout streak surpassed the 370-minute mark, and the saves he made on Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder allowed Argentina to progress to a first World Cup final in 24 years.
His denial of Sneijder, in which he dove instinctively to his right and batted the ball away from the far corner, was especially spectacular, but he also proved monumental in the final minutes against Switzerland in the round of 16.
All of a sudden the goalkeeping position is a strength for Argentina, who have allowed just three goals in six matches at the 2014 World Cup. Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis have developed an effective partnership in the centre of defense, and supporting them and communicating with them has been Romero.
Ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final in Sao Paulo, the goalkeeper made sure to praise Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal, who brought him through at AZ Alkmaar following a 2007 move from Racing.
“I’m playing against my old coach, Louis van Gaal, whom I owe so much,” he remarked to De Telegraaf, as relayed by Goal.com's Alec Fenn. “In the dressing room at AZ we had to speak Dutch, but Van Gaal spoke to me in Spanish. That was very important for me to get through the first tough period.”
The second tough period was as recent as last season, but right now the disappointment of Monaco seems well and truly behind Romero.
Incidentally, Van Gaal took the credit for Romero’s heroics in the penalty shootout when he told reporters, according to the Daily Mail's David Kent, that he had “taught Sergio Romero how to save penalties” back in Holland.
Not everyone can be as likeably modest as the current and outstanding Argentina No. 1.