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SPORTS | 10-08-2022 22:21

Sergio Romero returns to Argentina as Boca’s No. 1

Boca Juniors have finally clinched the marquee signing they were longing for: ex-Albiceleste, Racing Club and Manchester United stopper Sergio Romero.

The wait is over. It took a long, frustrating winter, the completion of almost half the league season, elimination from the Copa Libertadores and a change of coach, but Boca Juniors have finally clinched the marquee signing they have longed for since the transfer window first opened. And while it may not be a prolific world-class striker or virtuoso playmaker, in terms of prestige their new man certainly delivers.

Sergio Romero arrives at the Bombonera as a two-time World Cup goalkeeper, with 15 years of European football under his belt and just short of 100 caps for the Argentina national team. For once, moreover, Boca dispensed with the usual weeks and months of agonising speculation; his transfer was a veritable sprint in the end, made necessary by current No. 1 Agustín Rossi's refusal to sign a new deal.

Romero certainly made all the right noises at Monday's official presentation as a Boca player. “Boca are the biggest club in Argentina,” the shot-stopper declared to reporters. “I am here to show that I am ready, like I did in the national team's net. You have to think it over when you have the chance to play at a club like Boca. I am happy to come to this institution. Coming to Boca is a step forward in my career.”

Those words may have gone down nicely in La Boca, but over in Avellaneda they left a slightly unpleasant taste. Romero started his career across the Riachuelo at Racing Club and indeed had been using the side's training facilities to keep himself in shape this winter. In spite of the fact that La Academia made no formal bid for the goalkeeper and, in Gabriel Arias and Gastón Gómez, his decision was treated as near-heresy by some more excitable fans of the club – and staff too, if the outrageous proposal to remove Romero's name from one of Racing's academy training pitches in punishment for his sedition is anything to go by.

Eminently avoidable controversies aside, what can we expect from Romero the goalkeeper?

Despite his status as a long-time Argentina star – cemented during that unforgettable 2014 campaign in Brazil, when his penalty saves against the Netherlands sent the Albiceleste through to the final – Romero is nevertheless something of an unknown quantity. For starters, and almost uniquely for a player of his stature, he has not actually played a great amount of football.

In eight years from 2013 to 2021, his goalkeeping prime, the Misiones native lined up between the posts for a grand total of 20 league games for Sampdoria, Monaco and Manchester United. He did enjoy more regular time on the field last season for Venezia in Serie A, but the experience was not entirely positive: starting 16 games and conceding 33 times before knee surgery brought his campaign to an early end and the club went straight back down to the second tier.

In fairness, Romero is unlikely to find playing behind one of Argentina's most formidable defences quite as taxing as with the Italian minnows. Throughout his career he has proven capable of providing a steady if unspectacular presence, demonstrated by his long, uninterrupted possession of the Albiceleste net which was only brought to an end by an unfortunate injury just before the 2018 World Cup.

He is unlikely to be challenging Emiliano Martínez to win back the jersey any time soon but Boca seem to have at least secured a safe pair of hands, who will not be letting the team down any time soon. At least not on Sunday, as Boca declined to hand him a baptism of fire against none other than Racing in Avellaneda's Cilindro – probably for the best, all things considered, given some of the reactions in the last few days.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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