Marco Asensio’s 2019-20 season is over before it began, his torn ACL yet another pointless sacrifice to soccer’s financially motivated preseason schedule.
Asensio went down late in Real Madrid’s International Champions Cup match against Arsenal last night in Washington, D.C., seemingly from little contact—he was jostling with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but his knee seemed to get caught awkwardly in the grass at the Washington football team’s stadium and buckled:
Asensio was taken off on a stretcher and rushed to a hospital, where doctors confirmed the worst: not only did Asensio tear the ACL in his left knee, but his meniscus also suffered a tear. He’ll be out a long time, all for a preseason tournament no one cares about beyond the immediate benefit of filling club coffers with ticket and merchandise sales revenue.
Preseason friendlies themselves aren’t totally the problem; they have value in helping players get into match fitness, and they allow coaches to experiment with some youth players in order to see if they can bolster the club’s roster depth. For those reasons, the International Champions Cup, as well as other tournaments of its ilk, could be seen as a net positive. Asensio himself scored a nice goal earlier in the game, a welcome sight for a player who was looking to come storming out of the gate at the start of this season after a disappointing campaign last year.
The problem is that the main motivation for participating in a tournament like this has little to do with on-field advantages or anything else other than making extremely rich clubs just a little bit richer. The ICC sends top European clubs to far-flung locales in Asia and the United States, promises fans the chance to see the biggest stars in the world, and, stateside at least, packs football and baseball stadiums—much larger in the U.S. than soccer stadiums—for everyone’s profit. That all the travel and the shortening of the offseason rest period and the janky playing surfaces aren’t actually in the players’ best interest doesn’t seem to matter much when clubs get those dollar signs in their eyes.
What makes the decision to play in this specific football stadium even worse is the stadium’s long history of claiming football players’ ACLs. Of course that dangerous history matters less than the fact that the nation’s capital’s stadium has one of the largest capacities in the NFL. A better idea would’ve been to play the game in D.C. United’s place, with its respectable capacity of 20,000 and its ready-made field for soccer. Some fans would’ve missed out—Tuesday’s friendly had a reported attendance of nearly 53,000—but fans and even the club itself probably wish they would’ve taken that hit if it meant having a healthy Asensio.
Asensio isn’t the first player to injure himself in some irrelevant friendly played in the U.S.—and for the most reprehensible example of the phenomenon, you only need to look to the indefensible Chelsea vs. the New England Revolution “charity” match played back in May. That match, which bafflingly took place right after the Premier League season ended but before Chelsea’s Europa League final, saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek rupture his Achilles—and he won’t be the last. Clubs know the risks of playing these friendlies, and they’re seemingly more than willing to take them in order to secure the bag.
Injuries can happen anywhere and at any time, of course, but the clubs aren’t doing their players any favors with the friendly slates as they are now. The knowledge that at least Real Madrid made bank from a match that knocked him out for an entire year is little consolation for Asensio. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of the current landscape, where escalating transfer prices must be matched by even higher revenues, where clubs happily bet the health and futures of their players for a few dollars more.