During Real Madrid’s win over Real Mallorca on Sunday, Marco Asensio behaved like a spoilt child when Carlo Ancelotti made his team’s fifth substitution, a change enforced by the injury to Lucas Vázquez. Seeing that his hopes of getting off the bench were over, Asensio produced the classic dugout tantrum: he threw down his bib, he kicked out at a bottle… It didn’t go unnoticed by the Bernabéu crowd. What also didn’t go unnoticed were Asensio’s attempts to secure an attractive offer to leave the club over the summer. He didn’t get one - and, distracted by his search for suitors, frittered away his pre-season. When the campaign began, he found himself sixth in the pecking order in Madrid’s attack, behind Karim Benzema, Vinícius Júnior, Fede Valverde, Eden Hazard and Rodrygo Goes. Indeed, I’d even say he was pretty much level-pegging with Mariano Díaz.
Given his chance by Ancelotti, Asensio placates Real Madrid fans
However, Ancelotti has taken the first opportunity he got to rehabilitate Asensio. Having seen greater dedication from him in training, the Italian displayed his keen instincts as a man-manager by introducing him against RB Leipzig on Wednesday, avoiding the temptation to punish the player for his show of disrespect at the weekend. It didn’t look good for Asensio when he came on. With Madrid playing poorly, an already unhappy home support did not give him a warm welcome. This brat is all we need right now, it felt like they were saying. But he gritted his teeth and, in two pieces of play, offered up all that can be asked of a Madrid player: firstly, he rolled up his sleeves to win the ball back on the edge of his area, setting up a dangerous counter-attack; and, secondly, he scored with a sweetly-struck drive, a goal that sealed the points for Los Blancos.
Peace had been made. The Real Madrid fans applauded him. After his antics over the summer and his outburst on Sunday, Ancelotti could have simply said: to hell with him. It’s what anyone’s instinct would be, I think. But Asensio is a fine player, and it’s better to have 23 at your disposal than 22. As a coach, Ancelotti is at pains not to exclude anyone. We’ve witnessed him make Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard starters at the beginning of last season, and seek to use Hazard when Benzema has been missing this term. I expect he’ll persevere with that. Nobody’s essential; everyone is needed. That’s the mantra. Asensio has to accept that he’s not essential, but also keep in mind that he is needed.