Football

Published on September 2nd, 2017 | by Paco Polit

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Marco Asensio: the story of Real Madrid’s unglamorous Galactico

From a talented squad player for the future, to holding the line for Real Madrid, Marco Asensio has become a world-beater after being rejected by Barcelona

The first five official games of the 2017-2018 Real Madrid season have had an unexpected main character. Great performances, a dominating, impactful presence and four goals scored sees the spotlight shining over Marco Asensio Willemsen. Promising newcomer, wonder-kid extraordinaire and possibly the footballer that will single-handedly topple the power balance towards Los Blancos in the next ten years.

Marco (now 21) was born in Mallorca and worked his way up the ladder with confidence and step-by-step. He always was the quiet guy in the locker room; in fact, after scoring twice against Valencia CF last week and delivering another riotous performance, he was actually surprised to be chosen by the press officer to talk the the press post-game. He didn’t think his match had been that good.

Asensio’s career made a sudden halt when he was sixteen, when his mother – hugely important throughout his life both personally and professionally – passed away. The blow was enormous, but the teenager learnt how to overcome grief and develop that uncanny maturity and calmness that has paid-off later on, coping with the huge pressure that comes with playing for Real with a surprising unawareness and never losing his cool.

Turned down by Barcelona

The attacker is now living any kid’s dream, but things could’ve turned out differently. Nobody doubts he would have performed phenomenally at any other big side, but it was FC Barcelona who became so close to adding him to their squad a few years ago. It was summer 2014 and Barça had already agreed the fee (€4.5 million) with Real Mallorca. However, the deal fell through due to differences in the way the money was to be paid: Mallorca wanted everything upfront, Barça’s representatives wanted to get to that figure with bonuses.

Barça didn’t cave in. The sum was ridiculously low for such a team, but they totally blew it. Six months later, Real Madrid secured Asensio in the winter market. Possibly one of the biggest turning points in recent history. Adding insult to injury, Andoni Zubizarreta and Antoni Rossich decided to spend €5.5 million weeks later on Douglas. Everyone remembers how that turned out…

 

Now a Madridista, Asensio’s first steps in the squad weren’t easy. He had his debut vs Tottenham in a friendly played in August 2015, but deep down coaches believed he was still too young to deliver the goods. Therefore, he got sent to RCD Espanyol on the 2015-2016 season, the one where Rafa Benítez started on the bench and was replaced by Zinedine Zidane when Christmas came.

Growing up as a Perico

In Barcelona and being only 19, Asensio stepped up his game: he made 37 appearances, scored four goals and added 15 assists. Overall, very impressive numbers for a freshman in such a demanding competition. Off the pitch, his skills improved as well: he was quite the fluent speaker in four languages when he was only 19, as his mother had Dutch family and he was a quick learner.

His excellent first season in Primera granted him a large number of recognitions, including a Golden Boy 2016 nomination. But his main goal and big prize had been conquered: he would become a full member of the first Real Madrid squad in summer 2016, now under Zidane’s command. The same Zidane who Marco Asensio has stated numerous times that was his childhood hero and favourite player (though actually his name, Marco, is a shout-out from his parents to Marco Van Basten, the amazing Dutch striker they revered).

Learning from an idol

Under Zidane’s wing, Asensio was a slow-burn midfielder, adding minutes gradually in the first months of the season. He learned to watch his peers, think quickly and have patience. Most of his thirst to have a shot to play was quenched when he was called up by the national team, where he has been one of the top choices for all the managers in the under-17, under-19 and under-21 squads. His debut with the Spanish national team arrived on September 5th 2016. That move definitely stopped the chance of him playing someday with the Dutch national team (they were very interested in luring him in).

His build-up throughout the 2016-2017 season was spectacular, possibly one of the most impactful players over the last decade. Also, the fact that 90% of his goals were absolutely beautiful strikes didn’t do him any harm. Asensio became Real Madrid’s ‘golazo’ specialist, and has carried on the momentum to the current season.

With the so-called BBC struggling (Cristiano with a four-game ban, Gareth Bale is low on gas and Benzemà doesn’t seem to have his accuracy on point), Asensio has taken on the proverbial leadership mantle, commanding the team confidently in the first stretch of the competition.

And Florentino Perez knows he has discovered a crown jewel, a player for the ages: after his contract extension was signed last year, his release clause was bumped up to €350 million. Madrid are dominating the present with Asensio, but as long as the player grows and keeps improving, they threaten to conquer the future as well.

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About the Author

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Paco Polit is a Valencia-based journalist with over ten years experience reporting La Liga, covering both Valencia CF and Levante’s news, signings, ups and downs. Madrid and Barcelona are huge, indeed, but the Spanish La Liga is much, much more: regarded as the top football competition in the world, he enjoys explaining why to every reader from abroad.



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