Marco Asensio reignites career at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 27: Marco Asensio of Spain looks on while lining up for the International Friendly match between Spain and Argentina at Wanda Metropolitano stadium on March 27, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 27: Marco Asensio of Spain looks on while lining up for the International Friendly match between Spain and Argentina at Wanda Metropolitano stadium on March 27, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The Real Madrid and Spain star scores golden goal to lead his side into Olympic final against Brazil 

Remember when they used to talk about Marco Asensio they way they now talk about Pedri ?

He was the future of Real Madrid post-Cristiano Ronaldo, they said, the man to finally break up the BBC (Gareth Bale-Karim Benzema-Ronaldo) and lead the next-gen Spanish national side.

The Asensio hype reached fever pitch at the beginning of the 2017/2018 season after the two-legged Spanish SuperCopa Clásico when he turned Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen into a statue with a top-corner screamer in the Nou Camp.

Then in the second leg at the Bernabéu he took just four minutes to score again, leading Real Madrid to a 5-1 aggregate victory. Asensio's dribbling, finishing, and combination play with Ronaldo, Benzema and Luka Modric, was electrifying.

So convincing was the madridista victory that Barcelona's Gerard Piqué said afterwards: "This is the first time I've ever felt inferior to Real Madrid."

Asensio is the talk of a nation again after scoring the 115th minute winner in Spain's 1-0 against Japan to lead his side into the Olympic final in Tokyo.

Marco Asensio the prodigy

His underage career with Spain was equally promising.

At the 2015 UEFA U19 European Championships he was part of a victorious Spanish team alongside Rodri, Jesus Vallejo and Dani Ceballos.

Asensio chipped in two goals, was named on the 'Team of the Tournament' as a midfielder and given the 'Golden Player' award - the player of the tournament.

Two years later at the U21 Euros he was joint second-top scorer with three goals, and made the 'Team of the Tournament' once more, this time as a forward.

The Spanish press dived deep into what made Asensio one of the most exciting prospects in Spanish and Real Madrid colours.

They talked about his versatility, his humility, his maturity, about how he had lost his mother to cancer when he was 15, and how he and his brother and father were now a tight family unit.

He was grounded and on his way to greatness.

Real Madrid signed him in 2014 after he had shone for local club Mallorca, where he made his first team debut a year earlier when he was still 17.

Zidane instructs Marco Asensio back in 2018. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images )
Zidane instructs Marco Asensio back in 2018. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images )
2018 Getty Images

Marco Asensio injury

After exploding onto the Spanish front pages after those 2017 SuperCup performances, his subsequent league campaign was a good one.

He scored six goals in 32 league appearances, 11 in all competitions, and contributed six assists.

Provoked by the SuperCopa embarassment, Barcelona, Messi and Pique were spurred on to win La Liga with Real Madrid lifting the Champions League, a second in a row for Asensio.

But the following season, 2018/19, Asensio struggled to break into the first team and scored just one league goal.

And while it seems strange to talk about a player who's won La Liga and the Champions League twice as underachieving, when you've seen what he can do at his unplayable best, you feel like he has so much more to give.

His coach Zinedine Zidane urged for patience, saying he had time to find that consistency and become a natural successor to Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Then disaster struck in the pre-season tour of the U.S. before the 2019/20 season.

Asensio went down holding his knee with no-one around him against Arsenal. It was bad news, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee, the kind of injury that can end careers in any sport.

Surgery and recovery kept him off the football field for 249 days.

Pedri and Asensio: Prodigies

Football moves on fast and, in Asensio's absence, a new Spanish prodigy emerged.

In a whirlwind year, Pedri went from making his debut with Las Palmas at 16 to forming an immediate partnership with Messi at Barcelona and becoming a first team regular for club and country.

He excelled again for La Roja in Euro 2020, helping Spain to the semi-finals where they lost out on penalties to eventual winners Italy.

Now 18, he was voted the Young Player of the Tournament.

At the Tokyo 2020 opener for Spain against Egypt, Pedri played his 66th match in 322 days.

Now the Spanish media marvels at Pedri's maturity, his unpredictability, his fearlessness, his selflessness, and the way he combines with players all over the pitch, forming natural understandings.

All the things they used to say about Marco Asensio.

Asensio's Olympic Moment

Now Pedri and Asensio will play together at the Olympic Games, an opportunity for two prodigies to form another impressive partnership and help Spain to their first football Olympic gold medal since Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Santi Cañizares, Kiko, and los chicos de oro at Barcelona 1992.

Not selected for Euro 2020, a 25-year-old Asensio is determined to make it work at Real Madrid and Spain, starting here at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games .

Once they asked him about winning the Balón d'Ór at Real Madrid, now they ask him if he's going to stay at the club with Carlo Ancelotti now at the helm.

"I'm staying. Definitely." He answered Spanish daily Diario AS before Tokyo, "I'll be up to the expectations that Ancelotti has for me.

"My intention is to stay at Real Madrid, be great here and give it my all. I feel like I have lot more to give at this club."

Before that, he's focused on Tokyo and bringing it home for Spain, "I'm ready to give 100 per cent," he told Spanish news agency EFE .

He was training at Ciudad Real Madrid when the word came through that he was in the squad for Tokyo, having already spoken to coach Luis de la Fuente about playing.

Asensio said, "I couldn't wait to see the list. I was in Madrid, training in case I was called up, I'm really excited, it's something that you live once in your life and I can't wait to get back playing a competition with the national team; and one like the Olympics too.

"It'll be special. I've loved it since I was a kid, I used to watch all the sports, and that's what makes it even more special.

When asked if this was a chance of redemption, he replied, "I'm excited to play at an Olympic Games. I'm not thinking about redeeming myself. I'm thinking about doing the best I can to help my team-mates."

Asensio getting back to his best

Now at Tokyo 2020 Asensio is keeping his word, playing for his teammates and getting back to the kind of form that thrilled Real Madrid and Spain fans.

"La roja" is just one win away from winning Olympic gold - thanks to Asensio.

"The only thing in our heads is trying to bring the gold medal home for Spain." - Marco Asensio