The eyes of the world might be on Russia as the World Cup moves into the knockout stages, but it is not all about which nation will lift the biggest prize in world sport. There are careers to be made that will be talked about long after Russia 2018 is consigned to the history books, and a certain Spanish star is at the centre of the discussions.
Before things got underway in Russia, it seemed all but certain that Marco Asensio would be heading to Stamford Bridge and wearing a Chelsea shirt next season. He had asked to wait till the World Cup was out of the way before confirming anything, but that seemed a formality. Now, however, anything could happen.
A rising star
Asensio is still only 22, and his inclusion in the squad said more about his future potential than any major contribution expected in FIFA World Cup 2018. Nevertheless, he had time in the middle in two of the three group matches, coming on for Alcántara in the 74thminute against Morocco and for Vázquez in the 80thminute against Iran.
With plenty more drama to come – Spain are now odds-on to make the semis, given that they play Russia in the next round and either Croatia or Denmark in the quarter finals – Asensio seems certain to have further opportunities, and his stock will rise still further.
The Chelsea option
Earlier this month, a Spanish newspaper reported that a move to Chelsea was all but a done deal. Diario Golclaimed that an offer was on the table, Real were happy with the numbers and Asensio was willing to go.
The fact that he is keen on a move is no big secret. Asensio has impressed when he has been given the opportunity to do so at Real – and the fact that he’s getting even a little time in the middle in Russia shows how highly rated the talented striker is. But the problem has been that those opportunities have been few and far between.
At his age, Asensio needs time in the middle to show what he can really do, and he’s made it very clear that he will go wherever he can get the best opportunities to showcase and develop his talent. With rumours persisting that Eden Hazard will be bound for Real, there would be an elegant symmetry to the move, too.
Liverpool come calling
Everything has been cast into doubt by the most recent news that Liverpool have a strong interest in luring Asensio further north. The Independent described the Palma-born star as one of Liverpool’s top targets. The Reds are still looking for someone to step into Coutinho’s sizeable boots, and the anticipated signing of Fekir from Lyon seems to have hit a roadblock due to complications over his medical.
The very idea of being “the new Coutinho” for Liverpool is a compelling reason for Asensio to view the proposition favourably.
Or to the Gunners?
As he celebrated his second goal of the match in Real’s win against Betis in February, a celebration in which he appeared to perform the “flute celebration” made famous by Alexandre Lacazette almost brought Twitter to a halt. Gunners fans saw it as clue that he would be playing at Emirates next year.
Asensio played it down, saying it was simply an in-joke with close friend Dani Ceballos, who was on the Betis bench. Nevertheless, Unai Emery is clearly in the market for crafting a new-look line up, so the possibility is not to be ruled out.
One thing is certain, the longer Spain’s World Cup run continues, the more interest there will be in one of their most promising players.