2018 has been a dream come true for River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani so far. With the World Cup almost upon us, things may yet get even better as he has ended up being favourite to keep goal for Argentina in Russia.
In December, the 31-year-old was in his eighth year with Atletico Nacional of Colombia, and had never played either in Argentina’s top flight, or been called up for his national team. All of a sudden, he has the chance to be the star of both.
On Tuesday night, the news broke that Argentina’s first-choice goalkeeper and hero of the country’s run to the 2014 final, Sergio Romero, had picked up an injury that ruled him out of Russia 2018.
This was hugely unfortunate for the Manchester United player. He has played little in England, and his season was all about the big event in June.
He was almost assured the number one spot despite his lack of participation at club level, as his performances for Argentina have always been good, and being part of a squad as demanding as Mourinho’s Manchester United kept him in good enough shape in theory.
Fate has dealt a very different hand however, both to Romero and the other goalkeepers called up by Jorge Sampaoli.
The Argentine coach must now decide between Chelsea’s Willy Caballero and Franco Armani, whilst Nahuel Guzmán has been called in as back-up.
To add some context, Willy Caballero has been a substitute at Chelsea this season to Belgian No. 1 Thibaut Courtois.
Whilst in Buenos Aires, Franco Armani has had something of a breakthrough season. Not in the traditional sense, as this is not the first time he has played for a big club or demonstrated his considerable ability.
When he left Colombia in December, after winning over a dozen trophies with Atletico Nacional, legends like Faustino Asprilla and René Haguita joined thousands of other supporters of the Medellin team to pay homage to one of the greatest players in their history.
His level of recognition in Colombia was so high, and his connection so deep, that there was a serious chance just a few months ago that he would become a Colombian citizen and represent the Cafetera at the World Cup rather than his homeland.
Armani’s breakthrough with Argentina came not through playing brilliantly for the first time, but playing brilliantly in front of his watching compatriots for the first time.
He made a calculation in December, when River Plate came calling, that if he left behind his hugely successful career in Medellin and joined his boyhood team in Buenos Aires, he would put himself in the shop window for the World Cup squad.
Once in that shop window, Armani has been phenomenal, pulling off superb saves regularly, and ending the Superliga season with six clean sheets in a row.
The turning point may well have been a remarkable display away to Racing in April, where he kept an astonishing clean sheet as Sampaoli watched on from the stands.
So his calculation did not just pay off, it hit the jackpot. Talent, hard work, Romero’s misfortune, and a measured gamble may well have combined to deliver the unimaginable – the Argentina No. 1 shirt.
He could now be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Lionel Messi when the team sings the national anthem before the first game vs Iceland. Something that was not even part of his wildest dreams back in January.