Sergio Asenjo: Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph
For the 27-year-old, 6’ 2” goalkeeper, success has never come easily. Plagued by injuries throughout his promising career, Sergio Asenjo’s dedication to the sport and continued faith in his own ability are what have defined him as one of the top goalkeepers in LaLiga.
Born and raised in the northwest Spanish province of Palencia, football had the strongest influence in Asenjo’s childhood. A product of Real Valladolid’s academy, Asenjo was a highly-rated keeper from a young age. He made his debut for the first team in 2007, in which he ironically kept a clean sheet in a 2–0 win over his future club, Villarreal. He signed his first professional contract with Valladolid in January 2008. In a strong start to his professional career, Asenjo conceded just one goal in his first five matches. In November of that same year, Asenjo met with the captain of the Spanish national team, Iker Casillas, who dubbed him as his successor. “I know you’ll be great, but keep your feet on the ground, be yourself”. This was Casillas’ advice for the optimistic, 21-year-old Asenjo in a 2008 interview with AS.
Asenjo experienced his first brush with adversity at the end of the 2009 campaign, where he missed 3 months of action due to a knee injury. On 8th July 2009, Asenjo was transferred from Valladolid to Atlético de Madrid on a four-year, €5 million contract. There he trained alongside Roberto and David de Gea and was the highest rated amongst the trio. He was selected as the starting-keeper for the squad, but often alternated with De Gea in LaLiga, Champions League and Europa League play for Atlético. Then, in May 2010, tragedy struck again. Asenjo suffered another injury to his right knee. This time, he would be on the sidelines for six months. His absence took a toll on his position in the squad and in December 2010 he was sent on loan to Málaga, only to suffer another injury in February. He returned to Atlético for the 2012/13 campaign, but his time in the squad was short-lived.
“They are long lessons, they are difficult times, but you always have to think that something good is coming,”
In July 2013, Asenjo agreed to go to Villarreal on loan for a year. He thrived at the El Madrigal stadium, only missing three matches and keeping nine clean sheets. Asenjo’s presence between the posts was crucial in helping the Yellow Submarine to qualify for the UEFA Europa League. After a successful season, the opportunity Asenjo was waiting for finally came. The match against his former side, Atlético Madrid. Sergio had the opportunity to show them what they had missed out on. However, during an attempted save, Asenjo landed on his knee awkwardly and he could not get back up. He had to be stretchered off the pitch and his worst fears had been realized. He was diagnosed with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and would not be able to compete for the rest of the season. “They are long lessons, they are difficult times, but you always have to think that something good is coming,” Asenjo said in an interview to Marca this past May.
Indeed, good things were to come for the goalkeeper. The Manager of the Spanish national team, Vicente del Bosque, chose Asenjo for his Spain squad that would go to the 2016 European Championships. “It would be the happiest moment of my life, especially with everything I have had to sacrifice,” Asenjo also told Marca. Though he did not play, the experience was enough for Asenjo.
“I’ve gone through tough times, but I always believed in myself.”
This season, after signing a contract extension with Villarreal until 2022 for an undisclosed amount, Asenjo has blossomed into the keeper he was destined to be. Asenjo currently leads LaLiga for the least amount of goals conceded (18) and has kept eleven clean sheets. “I’ve gone through tough times, but I always believed in myself. I come from workers, simple people who struggled to keep the family going and I carry that gene. I see life as a hard fight against oneself to be better every day; I’m one of those people who think that you have got to put all the meat on the grill everyday”, Asenjo told Confidencial in an interview this month.
Unfortunately, in this past Sunday night’s match against Real Madrid at the Estadio de la Cerámica, after making a series of spectacular saves against the current LaLiga leaders, Asenjo went down injured again and had to leave the field of play. The Yellows number 1 hurt his knee as he made a sensational save to keep out a powerful header by Karim Benzema. Regrettably, subsequent medical tests have revealed that Asenjo has torn his ACL, this time in his left knee. Combined with Asenjo’s faith in his ability to both perform and recover, Asenjo has received unprecedented support. The hashtag #ÁnimoAsenjo is currently trending across Spain on Twitter. Not only Villarreal, but the whole nation is behind Asenjo, wishing him a speedy and successful recovery. #ÁnimoAsenjo!
His teammates offered support,
Other players and coaches from all across the football community,
And most endearing from his former club, Atlético Madrid
Sergio replied to the overwhelming support in a video he later tweeted. In typical fashion, he addresses his supporters with a smile on his face, calling this ‘day one’ and ending the video with the battlecry of the team, ‘Endavant’, which directly translates to what he has to do now — keep moving forward!