Not many players get their face on the cover of Marca, the most read sports paper in Spain, at 18-years-old. Then, not many players are Marco Asensio.
In fact, going back over recent years, analysing the Spanish production line and its glory, it’s difficult to think of many players with more natural talent than the boy from Palma, Mallorca. Those who had been watching Asensio from before his 10th birthday, simply can’t recall a more gifted talent to come through at the club. They didn’t have much time to watch him at that level either, given his promotion to the ‘B’ branch at just 16 years old. This age bracket is classed as second year Juvenil, instead the ambitious Asensio was a undisputed starter in Spain’s tough Tercera División, and knocking on the door of the first team.
He was playing against seasoned veterans in Tercera, some of Spain’s most well travelled professionals, in a division that chews up and spits out even the most competent players. Asensio shone however, showing supreme self confidence and ability to turn nothing games, into something of a spectacle. His talent wasn't going unnoticed inside the club, as then manager Jose Luis Oltra handed the player minutes with the first team all while still 17.
Outside of Son Moix, the scouts at Barcelona and Real Madrid were beginning to talk. While this isn’t a rare occurrence when regarding a young Spanish talent, they were said to be particularly enamoured with the player, and were willing to battle it out early, in hope they’d avoid getting into a bidding war with English clubs offering vaster sums. The deal that took Denis Suarez to Manchester City, still rankles with the hierarchy at two of Spain’s most prestigious clubs.
It took just a handful of games for Oltra to be on the Asensio bandwagon, promoting the player to the first team fully - all while still on a Juvenil contract. He has stayed grounded however, and committed to studies where he’s noted to be top of his class. Humility has been a key factor in Asensio’s early years, something forged into him by his father. Gilberto Asensio still works at a local supermarket, waking Marco and his brother Igor (also a footballer) at half past seven every morning for training. A personal tragedy hangs over the family, but one that clearly inspires both boys. Their mother died three years ago, and as Igor remarks, “all the goals he scores are dedicated to her”.
Another important figure in Asensio’s life has been Clemente Marín, the man who discovered the player. When Marín took Mallorca legend Jovan Stankovic to see a 10-year-old Asensio play, the groundwork was put in to shape the player. Stankovic refused to even believe the age of the player, such was the quality on display. In the years that followed, Asensio would play against, and eclipse, players two or three years older than him. “He could well be the best player Mallorca ever produced” says Marín. “I remember seeing him score goals from corners, and then there was the Zidane roulette.”
Asensio started out as a left winger, and until this current season, stayed and prospered there. While extremely productive out wide, current Mallorca coach Valery Karpin decided to move the player centrally. This in turn lit the proverbial touch paper, and Asensio has gone on to become the most exciting young player in Spain currently. Scouts from no less than 20 major different European clubs have seen the player this season, who has a staggering similarity to Isco in style. One local journalist even offered up a Michael Laudrup comparison. There has been little time to catch breath with Asensio, who has scored and assisted for his team in equal measure, carrying the baton for a team missing a figure like that of Samuel Eto’o, Ariel Ibagaza or Vicente Engonga from years gone by.
Asensio’s vision of play and ability to manoeuvre in small spaces with the ball at his feet are his defining attributes. Sounds similar? Well, there’s that Isco comparison being backed up. The player, who doesn't turn 19 until January, is blessed with incredible technique and most of all, end product. There is little waste in his game despite the tender years, as he knows when to release the ball and when best to drive at an opponent. Playing alongside older opponents since he left his teens has clearly been a factor in this, offering a perhaps premature maturity. Vicente del Bosque has even noticed the strides being made this season, remarking "He's a footballer who is a pleasure to watch play. He has great quality, and a great product of Mallorca."
Spain’s production line has been in motion for a while, and shows no signs of slowing down. Some come and go, look at Sergio Canales, Bojan Krkic, but others threaten to be world stars, such as Isco and Koke. For those who have witnessed Asensio, it’s difficult to not see him in the latter category.
David is on Twitter @DavidJaca.