Atletico Madrid: The Rise and Fall of Yannick Carrasco
As speculation over Yannick Carrasco’s future at Atletico continues, RealSport take a look at the Belgian winger’s career so far.
It was at the Emirates Stadium where Yannick Carrasco truly emerged onto the European scene. Monaco led Arsenal 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions League last-16.
Dimitar Berbatov, typically languid and ethereal, had scored but Leonardo Jardim wanted something else in the final minutes: raw pace, youthful exuberance, skill and directness.
So he turned to Carrasco, his hair in a topknot, emanating a confidence and swagger. With Arsenal committing players forward, searching for a way back, the 21-year-old ruthlessly exploited the space he was provided.
Outpacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had scored moments earlier, Carrasco burst into the box and picked out the far corner to make it 3-1.
It was a brief cameo, but an encapsulation of his talents. Here was a youngster whose composure and intelligence belied his age, who, even if judging only from a 15-minute display against Arsenal, appeared destined for the very top.
It was not by any means his first impressive performance. He had excelled for Monaco over a three-year spell, scoring 20 goals, many of which were spectacular, and attracting more admiring glances with each season.
By the summer of 2015, Atletico Madrid were convinced: €15 million was paid and it seemed like a bargain.
Carrasco always knew what it was like to struggle.
As a young child, his Portuguese father left and didn’t come back. The name on his passport reads Yannick Ferreira Carrasco but he dropped the first surname after his father’s abandonment.
He was left to depend on his mother, Carmen Carrasco, a native of Seville who raised four children alone.
“She’s very important to me,” said Carrasco in 2015. “I owe her almost everything I have.”
“I haven’t seen my father in 15 years. She gave me the belief when I played at Genk and supported me when I gave up studying to concentrate on football. She’s had it hard, single mother to four kids. I’m eternally grateful to her. She’s everything to me .”
At the age of 11, he left Vilvoorde, a neighbourhood made up mainly of immigrants on the outskirts of Brussels, to pursue a career in football. It was a risk. He was on his own and knew no-one.
In Vilvoorde, Carrasco and his family had spoken Flemish. But at his new home in Genk, the language was different. He was with a host family, away from his mother and homesick. “I had a hard time,” he later admitted.
What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger
But the experience helped him grow. Carrasco matured and developed, and benefitted from an enviable footballing education.
Genk had a reputation: players such as such as Kevin De Bruyne, Divock Origi, Thibaut Courtois and Christian Benteke had been nurtured in the club’s academy and now it was Carrasco’s turn.
He was placed under the guidance of Michel Ribeiro, Genk’s youth coach at the time. “We had him for an hour on two days a week, trying to teach him the skills required,” Ribeiro told Marca in a 2016 interview. ”He could play as a No 7, No 9 or as a playmaker, it didn’t matter. He used both feet from the beginning, we just had to correct certain things in his game.”
By the age of 17, Carrasco had been tempted by the prospect of Ligue 1, and joined Monaco. He was another talent to have emerged from Genk; perhaps, it was felt at the time, one of the best.
“Monaco had seen him play at our academy and had already contacted him, as other clubs in Spain had done,” said Ribeiro. ”I will never forget the pleasure he felt playing football, he always wanted to win.”
Carrasco had arrived at Genk a street player: his mother told of his almost insatiable appetite for football from a young age. He would spend hours at the park, working tirelessly to improve. Genk’s coaching helped hone his skills, and he would develop further at Monaco.
From the modesty of Vilvoorde, to the glamour of Monte Carlo, Carrasco would have been forgiven for thinking he had made it. But there was work still to do. He spent two years in Monaco’s B team, a teenager with undoubted potential but still with edges to be smoothed over.
Carrasco made his breakthrough in 2012, at a time when the Ligue 1 club were investing heavily under president Dmitry Rybolovlev. The likes of Falcao, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Jeremy Toulalan were signed a year later and the competition for places was formidable.
Having helped Monaco secure promotion from Ligue 2 in his first campaign, few expected Carrasco to feature as regularly in the top flight, particularly after a host of reputable new additions. But then-manager Claudio Ranieri was impressed. He put his faith in the youngster and was rewarded.
There was an underlying consistency but Carrasco made up for it with moments of uncontainable individuality. His work rate remained a constant, too.
“Before his Ligue 1 debut against Bordeaux he was unknown to most people,” said L’Equipe journalist Regis Testelin in 2013.
“He’s Monaco’s best player at the moment. I’m rather surprised at the level he is performing at. On top of his intrinsic qualities, he also has the advantage of being multi-lingual, which means he can communicate with everyone else in the squad. Moutinho and Rodriguez won’t force him out of the team.”
Frédéric Barilaro, former director of education at Monaco, meanwhile said: “What surprised me most was his maturity for his age. I’ve never seen a footballer so sure of his own ability.”
Two years later, surprise was far from the prevailing sentiment. Instead, there was recognition and an acceptance that Carrasco would soon be on his way. Tottenham were interested but it was Atletico that pounced first.
Life in Madrid
“Yannick is a player with massive prospects who has an incredible future,” Atletico sporting director, Jose Luis Perez Caminero, said on his arrival.
“He is a player with great speed, excellent ball skills and a great shot. He will contribute perfectly to our goal of lifting the level of the squad and the group’s competitiveness. I am convinced he will give us a huge amount.”
It took time for Carrasco to settle in the Spanish capital but he soon began to prove himself an essential member of Diego Simeone’s side. His quality in attacking areas, his impact at key moments, had impressed fans at the Vicente Calderon.
At first, he lived alone in Madrid, his family back in Belgium, his mother Carmen benefitting from her son’s success. He was content and continuously improving, appearing more frequently for the Belgian national team.
After a goal against Valencia in his first season, he received a standing ovation from Atletico’s fans. They chanted his name as he left the pitch. It felt like Carrasco was the man to take the club forward.
“That makes me happy,” he said.
A turn for the worse
Last season, Carrasco’s second at Atletico, was the most prolific of his career. He scored 14 times in all competitions and it seemed that he would once again be a regular this campaign.
But he has fallen out of favour. Rumours emerged of a disagreement between him and Simeone, although the Argentine looked to dispel them. It was clear, however, that Carrasco was no longer part of Simeone’s first-team plans.
Having started just eight La Liga games, after growing speculation that he would join Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang, Carrasco signed for them on Monday on a three-year deal.
“It is an important departure, he is young and with a great future, and is important for our team,” said Simeone.
Inevitably, the consensus is that Carrasco is throwing away a potentially successful career in search of financial gain. Perhaps that is the case: perhaps a player who risked everything to pursue football as a child, who grew up in such trying circumstances, has been lured in by the prospect of a lucrative salary.
His performances have suggested at a decline in the intensity and drive of old; there are clearly issues off the pitch inhibiting his progress at Atletico. But a move to China does not necessarily represent the death knell for his career. Others have done it before him and Carrasco may simply see it as the best available option.
“You never know what will happen,” he himself has admitted. Certainly, Carrasco will hope that this season’s decline is a mere blip on a journey to future success.
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