It’s no secret that Argentines are very proud of their conveyor belt-like talent production when it comes to footballers. “In Argentina I was born, the land of Diego [Maradona] and Lionel [Messi]” were the opening lines of the song that was ubiquitous during the 2022 Qatar World Cup. That brings a certain sense of irony to the fact that the Albiceleste player who has been in the spotlight during this U-20 World Cup was born in Mexico.
Born on November 18, 2004, in Durango, Luka Romero only holds an Argentine passport due to his Argentine parents. Romero’s father, Diego, was a professional footballer, who played in a number of clubs around the world, and luck would have it that he was still a member of Alacranes Durango when his son was born.
Coming from a family with a strong footballing background, it was no surprise that Luka’s passion for football became evident at a very young age. His father came through Quilmes, where his grandfather was also involved, while two of his uncles from his mother’s side also played for the club, albeit never making their professional debuts.
“I’m a Quilmes fan because my dad played there. When I went there what I liked the most was the passion, how the games are lived,” Luka explained back in 2020.
Romero’s career started in the country where he grew up, Spain, bouncing between clubs and academies in Andalusia and the Balearic Islands as his father’s career developed, before getting settled at Ibiza-based PE Sant Jordi. After failing to join FC Barcelona due to being younger than 10 years old (the minimum age for a boarding spot at the club’s La Masia Academy), he trialed for RCD Mallorca, joining them in 2015.
There, his diminutive stature and technical prowess earned him comparisons with Messi. Romero’s performances in the youth ranks gained the attention of the footballing world as he scored a total of 230 goals in 108 games played with the Mallorca youth teams. It was precisely there that he caught the eye of an Argentine scout, Marcelo Rodríguez, a former goalkeeper for the Estudiantes de La Plata’s B team.
“Just 10 seconds into the game, I saw a speed-oriented control he did. I was like, ‘This kid is good,” he said in an interview with Infobae. “I love a player who can control the ball, and he already had great controls.”
Rodriguez spoke with Romero’s parents and put them in contact with Hermes Desio, who worked as AFA Youth Teams coordinator. Desio then arranged for Romero to visit the AFA training grounds and kick-started it all.
Due to his parents’ nationality, his birthplace, and the country where he grew up, Romero was eligible to represent Argentina, Mexico or Spain — and all three footballing federations were eager to have him. However, Romero has been an Albiceleste regular since the U-15 age group, and never really hid his intentions when the time came.
“Wearing [the Argentina] shirt is the best. Every time I wear this shirt I try to do it in the best possible way. I’m very happy,” Romero said in an interview with Radio La Red. “I never had doubts about wearing this shirt.”
On June 24, 2020, Romero made history when he debuted for RCD Mallorca in a LaLiga match against Real Madrid at 15 years and 219 days. His appearance on the pitch made him the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish top division (surpassing the 80-year-old record previously held by Francisco “Sanson” Bao Rodriguez), and the youngest footballer in the history of European football (previously held by Kalman Gerencseri since 1960). Although Mallorca lost the match, Romero’s poised and composed performance showcased his maturity beyond his years.
Since then, Romero’s stock has been on the rise. On 19 August 2021, Romero was signed by Italian Serie A club SS Lazio, where he became their youngest-ever player, making his debut in their 6–1 victory over Spezia at the age of just under 17 years old. He later became the youngest Argentine player to score in Serie A and the second-youngest Lazio player to score.
However, opportunities have been hard to come by at Lazio. So far, he’s only played 360 minutes with the Biancocelesti, almost exclusively starting from the bench. Still, with his performances in this U-20 World Cup, Lazio manager Maurizio Sarri may want to reconsider keeping Romero as just a rotation option for much longer.
“When you’re on the pitch, you want to run more and more, it gives you a lot of strength,” Romero told La Nación after Argentina’s win over Guatemala. “It’s something very nice to see all these people excited for us.”