How signing Alexandro Bernabei earned Celtic the support of an entire Argentinian village
Remarkably, the 21-year-old left back, who has signed a five-year contract, has already written himself into the club's history books.
Now he wants to be such a success that others from his homeland will follow him.
“For me, being the first Argentinian player at Celtic means I would like to open the door for a lot more Argentinian players to come to the club,” he said.
Perhaps more importantly, he now wants to make every inhabitant in his home village of Correa proud of what he achieves as he treads new ground.
“It really makes the people proud when one of us has success,” the left-back said. “Especially my family. What I do makes them proud and that’s important to me. But all 6000 people in the village are now Celtic fans.”
Bernabei's move from Club Atletico Lanus to Celtic in a deal that could be worth up to £3.75 million means the Parkhead club have put right a surprising omission.
Celtic have recruited players from Brazil, for example, with variable results, but never Argentina. Rangers, meanwhile, have signed two – Claudio Caniggia, most memorably, and Gabriel Amato.
Perhaps the enmity aroused by the notoriously violent Intercontinental Cup series of fixtures against Racing Club of Buenos Aires in 1967 accounts for the fact Argentina has remained untapped by Celtic for so long.
Bernabei hopes to ensure he can forge a better association between the club and country. Already capped at Under-23 level, he wants to use Celtic as a springboard for full international recognition.
“I hope this will allow me one day to make another one of my dreams come true and play for the Argentina national team,” he said.
His former club tweeted a photograph of Bernabei with legend Diego Maradona shortly after confirming the player was heading for Scotland. “The 25 arrives blessed by the 10,” they wrote, with reference to the respective players’ numbers. The meeting occurred after a friendly between Lanus and Gimnasia de la Plata, where Maradona was manager until his death in November 2020.
“It was just really, really meaningful to be able to meet him,” he said. “For my career and also for my life, for all Argentinians.”
He is, though, inspired by those closest to him. Bernabei explained that he is from a very humble background. “My grandfather used to take me to football from three years old because I was very energetic, I would not sleep well at night,” he said. He has dedicated the move to him.
In a previous interview, Bernabei detailed life in Correa, a village situated in the Santa Fe region around 60kms from Rosario, where Lionel Messi was brought up. He told Ole in his homeland that he was brought up by his grandparents due to his parents’ straitened circumstances. He would wash himself in the village fountain.
His big money move to Celtic is the latest step in an already incredible journey.
Celtic fans will hope Bernabei becomes known for more than simply being the club’s first Argentinian.
The Parkhead side have struggled to adequately fill the left-back slot vacated by Kieran Tierney following his transfer to Arsenal in the summer of 2019.
Bernabei described himself as “aggressive” and someone who likes to go forward.
But he’s conscious of his other duties, Celtic supporters will be relieved to hear. “I never really had a hero growing up, but then when I started watching football, I really wanted to be like Marcelo, of Real Madrid,” he said.
“Of course, I would like to join the attack, but also be defensive because that is also needed.”
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