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Posted 30 August 2017 - 22:39
Posted 30 August 2017 - 22:59
Marco Asensio And That Left Foot
This article was meant to be about Dennis Bergkamp, and to be honest that might have been a more timely piece — it would have come after a particularly difficult defeat for Arsenal fans, a 4-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield, and might thus have provided some comfort at the start of a hard week of introspection. That was the plan, but it has been usurped by the left foot of Marco Asensio. Like any of the goalkeepers whom he has recently traumatised from twenty-five yards or more, it took me completely by surprise. I normally write about a player’s overall greatness, but here I must praise only the greatness of Asensio’s long-range shooting. I have never seen anything like it. I am not saying that he is the first footballer to be truly dangerous from distance – of course not. It is just that the way that the ball moves from his foot is wholly unfamiliar.
The only comparison I can currently draw is the second goal that Sergio Aguero scored on his debut for Manchester City against Swansea City. There, we saw a strike that behaved with the same contempt for physics that Asensio’s recent efforts have displayed. But even Aguero’s goal had something predictable about it. He shaped himself for the shot, which at least gave the goalkeeper time to dive. But Asensio is not remotely merciful. He doesn’t give the opposition any kind of such warning, no notice that he’s about to strike. This ruthlessness was seen most recently against Valencia, where the 21-year old scored both of Real Madrid’s goals – magnificently, it must be said – in a 2-2 draw. Asensio’s first was the more bewildering of the pair; taking possession thirty or so yards out, he strolled forwards before unleashing a drive that swerved maliciously into the bottom corner. Neto, the Valencia goalkeeper, seemed not to move until the restart of play.
If Neto was taken aback, then he can’t claim that he had no idea what Asensio was capable of. Marc ter Stegen has been a victim of Asensio’s markmanship not once but twice – on both occasions, he has been left immobile as the ball has soared and then dipped beneath his crossbar. We can only hope that the emotional damage is not lasting; and that, decades from now, ter Stegen does not find himself anxiously scanning the skies as he takes an afternoon stroll in the country. “It’s okay”, his doting grandparents will tell him, gripping his trembling hand. “Asensio is not taking aim at you anymore.”
Asensio’s shooting is so extraordinary that it doesn’t even seem to have its roots in the same sport. It’s most reminiscent, in fact, of Rafael Nadal’s forehand – it has the same virtual absence of backlift, the same astonishing power, the same staggering dose of topspin. Given that both Asensio and Nadal are Spanish, you wonder if it’s something maybe cultural, or genetic. Who knows? All that’s clear is that you can’t really teach such a skill, only perfect it; and Asensio has obviously been long at work.
Though Asensio has the most sophisticated of gifts, there’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about it. We live in an age of intricate attacking football, of movements choreographed with the precision of the Bolshoi Ballet – so often, it seems that the only way to goal is by plotting a route that would confuse Sherlock Holmes. And Asensio – well, he’s just swaggered into the dressing-room and swept all the miniature men off the tactics table. “Screw that”, his left foot seems to be saying. “None of that fancy planning; let’s just walk up to that front door, and kick it down.”
Asensio’s rise is a frightening development, since it’s not as if Real Madrid needed any more attacking tools. Or maybe they did – maybe teams had grown a little too comfortable sitting deep against them, content in the knowledge that they merely had to hold out in their own third of the pitch to escape with a point. Perhaps, with Gareth Bale in and out of the lineup, those teams had concluded that Real were no longer a consistent thread from thirty-five yards. And then along came Asensio, as deadly accurate from long-range as John Wick.
Though there is so much else that is special about Asensio’s game, we can truly cherish him for the fact that he is a master of the art of the screamer – that strike from absurdly far out that makes you leap to your feet and roar with euphoria. And thankfully, with his festival anthem of a left foot, he is surely set to entertain us for many years to come.
Posted 22 December 2017 - 13:41