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Marco Asensio injury is a reminder of the brittleness of hope

Spain v Sweden -EURO Qualifier Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

In the 58th minute of Real Madrid’s preseason game against Arsenal in the International Champions Cup — a tournament that’s nothing more than an attempt from the Relevant Sports brand to squeeze as much money from American fans as possible, by showcasing big European teams and charging astronomical amounts for meaningless games in the summer — Marco Asensio scored an incredible goal to level the game, 2-2.

A few minutes later, he was being stretchered off the field. During a jostle with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the 23-year-old tore his ACL and meniscus. His season is most likely over.

The injury, like many before it, is the fruit of the ICC’s perverse quest for profit, disguised as a service to fans. It’s the fruit of the asinine decision to play the match in a Washington NFL team’s stadium, rather than in an actual soccer field. It’s also just an extremely unfortunate situation for Asensio.

The youngster didn’t play particularly well last season for Real Madrid, but that’s within the context of the team as a whole not doing well, and there being so much turmoil with several managers coming and going. Asensio, despite his struggles, is a very talented player who had a chance this season, under the stability and guidance of Zidane, to not just rediscover his old form, but to also start to truly fulfill his potential.

In the span of less than six minutes, the Asensio represents was reignited, then snuffed out by a freak injury.

With young players, we mostly live in their future. They’re promises, dreams of what could be. It’s when a player is young that the bar for their career is set, and from there we can define how they’ll be judged, both during and after their career. If a player set expectations by showing flashes of promise while young and never met them, that lost potential will haunt them even into retirement.

The problem with the expectation bubble that surrounds talented prospects is there’s so much in sports which can sabotage their futures. Their promise can be snuffed out by managerial or ownership changes, their personal attitudes, a change of position, and, worst of all, injury.

When we project what a player will and can be, we’re engaging in a Panglossian delusion. We set the conditions of our world to be as perfect as possible so the only problems the player can possibly face are individualistic ones — hard work and/or motivation. And then, in this world, we make sure they’re overcome anyway.

But life is chaotic, and sometimes shit happens — even if, in the case of playing in an NFL stadium, that shit might have been avoidable. Sometimes a player goes into a challenge to win a ball, does the same set of movements they’ve done a million times, and this time their knee buckles and they tear their ACL.

The life of an elite athlete is generally centered on controlling the things that can be controlled. Training, diet, personal performance. By maximizing all of these things, the athlete gets a chance to structure what the future looks like to a degree. They can do well and have a good career by making sure they’re in the best shape and put in their best effort at all times.

Yet all of this attempt at control is in defiance of one of the harshest truths of life. That pure chance, good or bad, still has an overwhelming influence on how our future turns out.

Of course, there’s hope for Asensio. An ACL and meniscus tear at a young age is not career-ending. He will come back with enough time to make something great of himself, and even if he never reaches the heights that his talent promised, he can still work to play a high level. There’s also a possibility his career goes in the same trajectory as Jesé Rodriguez’s — who also tore his ACL and whose career took a sharp downturn after.

Even after he has been medically cleared to play, Asensio will have to deal with the mental turmoil and uneasiness in trusting his body again. In trying to move with the same explosiveness that he once had, while not trusting the body that has failed him. It will be a long road back, and even if he makes it, Asensio has now tasted his own mortality.