There was once a time Europe’s big boys were drooling over Marco Asensio. The Spanish sensation who Real Madrid snapped up for less than five million euros, from the clutches of perennial rivals Barcelona, began his career at Los Blancos as a super-sub. A player who would frequently feature from the bench, and add the gloss on big victories, and usually, with iconic goals. Who can forget that screamer against Sevilla? Who can forget his counter attacking goal against Bayern Munich? What about those two long-rangers against Barcelona? He even came on and added a fourth in the UEFA Champions League final against Juventus in 2017. Back then, Madrid were a powerhouse, a team which had Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale either side of Karim Benzema, and so having a talent like Asensio coming on and showcasing his vast talent-set, was such a luxury to have for the team and for us fans. Asensio was 21, and he had time to grow, it was ideal. He had to continue developing, and Real would have a star.
Fast-forward four years, and Asensio will turn 26 in January 2022. And so, Asensio is beginning to worry me. There’s certainly a case to be made that Asensio was perhaps a moments player, but I won’t go that far. I still believe he was a special talent, and that the ACL injury he sustained against Arsenal during the pre-season before the 2019-20 season has completely derailed what could have been.
I say this because Asensio appears to have lost everything that he was once good at. The acceleration with the ball at his feet has disappeared. The long-shots have gone, even when he’s in a position to have a go from distance, he chooses not to. It’s all so safe and risk-free now, the opposite of what he was. The intelligence may still be there, but ACL injuries can ruin players, and have done in the past. It’s not just confidence either, certain injuries just eliminate traits which players once had. Statistically, he’s an embarrassment right now, but for a while, he was also the only option Zinedine Zidane had.
In his last five games, he has only had two shots on goal, and hasn’t assisted or scored. Do you realise how bad that is for a player who starts for a club like Real Madrid? Let’s scope out his entire season so far. In the 1839 minutes he has played, the Mallorca-born forward has produced two goals and two assists, directly involved in a goal once every 459 minutes, which is every five games. Is that how low the bar has dropped at Madrid, a 25-year old starter, with those statistics? In his last 100 games for the club, he has 12 goals and 11 assists, averaging a goal or an assist every 235 minutes, or about every two and a half games. The reason why I say he may have been a moments player, is that even before his injury, his stats weren’t exactly breathtaking – though the goals he would score were breathtaking.
Since his return from that nasty ligament injury, he has five goals and three assists in 41 games. During the 2018-19 season before his injury, he played in 44 games, scoring six times and assisting a further six. The point of this number crunching is to show that the stats are pretty much identical before and after the injury. The only variables that have changed with regards to Asensio, is that he’s now nearly 26-years old, and Madrid are now in desperate need of a winger who can score and produce consistently. While he may statistically be the same player, attribute wise, he simply isn’t. There’s also an argument to be had that back then, he got away with those stats because he was a rotational youngster, and there was no burden. Right now, Asensio shows no signs of carrying the team’s burden, in fact, he’s just a hologram on the pitch, an actual burden on his teammates. Asensio infamously once said:
“It is not for me to lead from the front, there are other players that have been at the club for longer, they are more experienced, have a higher status and it is down to them.”
He’s now 25, and yet youngsters like Federico Valverde and Rodrygo Goes have shown more responsibility than he has. Ultimately though, there is a decision to be made. Madrid are in a transition, where they need to continue improving. The attacking line is the main focus of this improvement. And clearly, they’re currently also struggling for funds. So at what point does the club decide it’s time to part-ways with a 25-year old player who just isn’t showing anything near to the level the team requires?
Asensio’s contract runs out in 2023, meaning, he’s only likely to get next season to prove he’s worthy of a longer-term contract. But with targets like Erling Braut Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, they’ll need all the money they can get to fund them. So is 2021 the right time to part-ways with Asensio, or do they give him one more season, to potentially increase his value and then sell him with one-year left on his deal? But what if they give him an extra year and his value continues to decrease, meaning in 2022, when they do decide to sell him, he has no value? It’s a risk, which is why the Asensio decision is a crucial one.
Column by Muddassir Hussain | Follow me on Twitter: @muddassirjourno