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Tom Canton details the journey that Marco Asensio has made to the top of European football.
The gargantuan rise that young Marco Asensio has taken during the last 3 years has been one of the most underrated stories in Europe. From playing with RCD Mallorca’s B side at the start of the 2013/14 season, to making his Real Madrid Champions League debut in 2016 at the mere age of 20. Not just making his debut in La Liga and Europe, but also scoring on his European, Champions League and La Liga bows for Real Madrid.
What is it about Asensio though, that meant he got noticed by Los Blancos in the first place? I am not a fan of comparing young players to current wizards of the sport. Hearing quotes such as, “This guy will be the next Ronaldo, Messi, Robben, blah, blah, blah…” To me, players should be looked at for who they are, what qualities they currently possess and which attributes they still need to improve on. Asensio has this wonderful feel about his game that tricks us, the viewers, into thinking he is a much more mature player than what his birth certificate will tell you.
Now, I’m not saying that he is perfect, far from it. His composure in front of goal could be better, his spatial awareness could be a lot sharper, however, his vision when in possession of the ball is incredible for a player of his age – qualities I will highlight as we progress through his journey.
The story of the young Spanish attacking midfielder begins at his hometown club of RCD Mallorca. Asensio progressed quickly in the youth setup and just 3 months after his senior debut for Mallorca’s B side, the youngster got his chance in the first team; playing 6 minutes at the end of a 3-1 away defeat to Recreativo de Huelva.
Whilst this was not the most glamourous of starts, minutes on the pitch soon began to increase and less than 2 weeks after his 18th birthday, Asensio completed his first 90 minutes for the main side. He became a staple for the team quickly and was rarely out of the first eleven from then on.
It was the attribute of vision which was stood out throughout the latter stages of his first season and continuing into his second season it improved further. But what is vision without delivery? Luckily for Asensio the answer to this query was sparsely revealed. When he got the timing of his passes correct, the weight of pass was consistent and often lead to a chance.
Although he assisted just one goal for Mallorca in his first season, the coaching staff at the club knew the talent this kid possessed and moving into 2014/15 that talent was harnessed. Of the 36 matches he played during the season, he completed 90 minutes on 24 of those occasions. This was the season which Asensio caught the eye of the ‘big boys’ and with a record of 6 goals and 8 assists for a 19-year-old, you can see why.
It wasn’t just his technical ability which was so appealing for onlookers, his versatility and comfort in varying attacking positions was top drawer. Asensio had been deployed in both a central attacking midfield role but had also taken up stool on both the right and left flanks.
It was all these attributes that led to Real Madrid to make contact so early on during the 2014/15 campaign. In late November 2014, an agreement was reached between both Madrid and Mallorca for the sale of Asensio; the youngster stayed at Mallorca on loan for the remainder of the season after officially signing during the winter transfer window for approximately €4 million.
Towards the end of the loan stint with his hometown club, Asensio earned his first Spain u21 international call-up in March. Although Asensio had reached the penultimate level of international competitiveness, he was selected to continue playing with the Spanish u19 squad for the 2015 European Championships; a squad Asensio had been part of since 2014.
During the Championships, Asensio and the squad progressed all the way to the semi-finals, in which Asensio scored both goals in a 2-0 victory over France. This confident form continued into the final and Real’s new starlet got both assists in another 2-0 win – this time over Russia. Silverware earned this young can sometimes be a curse rather than a calling, what Asensio did during 2015/16 would be crucial to keeping his stock high.
Although he completed his first preseason with Los Blancos, it was decided that it would be more proactive and beneficial for the 19-year-old to get game time in Spain’s top-flight by going out on loan. On the 20th of August Asensio signed for Espanyol on a season-long loan deal.
Asensio did not play for the Catalonian side until match-day 4, starting in a 3-2 away win at Real Sociedad. Asensio made an instant impact and used his excellent dribbling abilities to win Espanyol a penalty; Gerard scored the resulting spot-kick sending Espanyol on the way to their second win of the season.
Asensio earned another assist in the following game against Valencia which won a further 3 points for his new club, but what was to come next would set the youngster up for a brilliant first season in Spain’s top flight.
The away trip to Real Betis was billed as a tough fixture for Espanyol but with Asensio in full flow, the Seville-based club were ripped open. A hatrick of assists in a 3-1 win announced Asensio to La Liga in style. The first was a trademark, perfectly weighted free kick which centre-half Enzo Perez simply glanced into the corner. The second, an incising run down the left flank led to a grounded cross for Caicedo to finish beyond Adan. Finally, the third was the best, a professional display of close-controlled dribbling allowed Asensio to make space to the left of the Betis box, before dinking a pinpoint reverse pass for Victor Sanchez to volley home.
Three more assists would follow this before Marco finally got his first goal in the Primera Division. An important home match against Deportivo La Coruna set the stage for the youngster’s first conversion. A cross headed downwards by fellow Real Madrid loanee Burgui fell to Asensio and the Spaniard turned on a sixpence before rifling the ball high into Lux’s net. Espanyol won the game 1-0, ending a horrible run of 8 games without a win.
The remaining 8 games of the season saw Asensio earn a further 5 assists and 3 goals as Espanyol secured their status as a Primera Division team once again. These took his season tally to 15 assists for the season (including 2 in the Copa Del Rey) and 4 goals.
Asensio returned to Madrid with plenty of suitors ready to take the Spaniard for next season. However, new Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane wanted to give Asensio a chance to stake a claim to feature in his first-team plans. Pre-season went well, featuring against Chelsea, Bayern Munich and PSG in the Champions Cup preseason tournament. His final test to prove his worth before the start of the La Liga season came in the form of a European Super Cup start against Sevilla. The youngster did not disappoint and scored one of the finest goals in the cup’s history. Receiving the ball outside of the box just to the right of centre, he struck a looping long-range effort high into the top left hand corner. I couldn’t help but tweet in excitement, “That’s my boy!” While of course having nothing to do with his development, I felt as though all my praise and confidence in him had just exploded on the European stage in front of millions of viewers in the best way possible.
Naturally, this led to Asensio earning his place in Real’s team for the upcoming season. With Ronaldo still recovering from the injury sustained in the European Championship final and both Jese and Denis Cheryshev sold during the summer, Asensio was picked to start in the iconic left wing position away to Real Sociedad. Just like in the Super Cup Final, Asensio played with confidence and the absent Portuguese talisman was not even missed. A long ball from Raphael Varane over the Sociedad defence was met by Asensio, bringing the ball down with ease, he chipped the ball exquisitely over Rulli to get Real’s second of the match on the way to a comfortable 3-0 win.
So, debut goals in both the European Super Cup and La Liga… surely not in the Champions League? Not in the squad for Madrid’s opening matches against Borussia Dortmund and Sporting Lisbon, Asensio was given his Champions League bow against Legia Warsaw. 37 minutes in, Ronaldo found himself with the ball trapped under his feet in the Poland side’s box, managing to shift the ball to his right, he laid off a tempting pass to the edge of the box and an onrushing Marco Asensio was there to calmly slot the ball into the right hand corner, totally wrong footing the Legia keeper.
To date, Asensio has played 11 times this season in four competitions for Real Madrid, scoring 6 goals (already 2 more than in an entire season with Espanyol) and earning one assist. It appears although the Spaniard’s eye for a pass is still, in my opinion, the main attribute of his game, goals are coming much easier for Marco. Zidane, although a rather inexperienced manager, is using his knowledge of player development from his time at Real Madrid’s B side to mould Asensio into an even better player. Big things are expected in the near future and at this stage, it does not seem the Real juggernaut will burn out this rising star.