9 August 2017
It was not too long ago that Francisco Alarcon popularly called Isco was considered a luxury player at Real Madrid.
Though his talent was never in doubt, there was a general feeling that the Spaniard lacked that something extra to become a mainstay at the Bernabeu.
Indeed, the midfielder was strongly linked with a move away from the Spanish capital last summer after only managing five goals during the 2015-16 campaign, and struggling to earn a regular spot in the Real Madrid XI.
It was also an unhappy first half to last season, with Isco regularly overlooked for the big matches as Zinedine Zidane kept faith with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the final third.
There was no available midfield spot either due to the form of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro.
Isco did not start and finish a La Liga game for Real Madrid until the middle of October, and when that did occur, he came up with a brace in a 6 – 1 win at Real Betis.
Isco was regularly involved in Zidane’s team, but it was a start here and there, minutes here and there, rather than a key role in the XI.
Tottenham Hotspur were believed to be circling at the start of 2017, and Isco regularly hinted to the press that he could leave Real Madrid at the end of the 2016-17 season.
“I’m calm. What worries me is to have minutes. A player’s career is small. I’m happy here and would stay many more years. From now until the end of the season, we will make a decision. It is my future at stake,” Isco stated back in February.
Something changed in the final months of the season, however, with Bale’s injury problems handing Isco the chance to become a regular in the Real Madrid team.
The 25-year-old simply never looked back, and despite the brilliance of a number of his teammates, it was Isco that made the biggest impression.
Perhaps his biggest goal of the season came away at Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final in April.
The comeback was on for Atletico after Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann had cut the aggregate score to 3 – 2 inside 16 minutes, but Isco killed the last-four tie with a fine goal three minutes before the break.
There was simply no stopping the former Malaga playmaker from that moment as he helped Real Madrid to four wins in their final four matches of the campaign.
Victories over Sevilla, Celta Vigo and Malaga saw Los Blancos take the La Liga title away from Barcelona, before a 4 – 1 win over Juventus made it back-to-back Champions League crowns.
Zidane was seemingly never in doubt, with the Frenchman regularly insisting that Isco was a key part of his plans despite struggling for minutes in the first half of last season.
“He’s an important player for us, he works hard and he’s crucial. He’s a player I’m very fond of,” Zidane said at the start of February.
Isco simply made it impossible for Zidane to leave him out, and perhaps the biggest moment of the midfielder’s career came in last season’s Champions League final.
Bale had returned to fitness for the clash in his hometown, but Isco was given the nod to start as the 25-year-old was finally trusted on the biggest of stages.
He ended the campaign with 11 goals in 42 appearances, while his La Liga record read 10 goals and eight assists from just 18 starts, which is a strong indication of exactly what he brought to Los Blancos during the 2016-17 campaign.
The start of another new season will bring a fresh challenge for Isco as he looks to nail down a regular spot in the Real Madrid XI.
The brilliant Marco Asensio is pushing for a place in the front three, and it will be very interesting to see whether Zidane decides to leave out Bale or Benzema when the big matches roll around.
Isco made his point in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday, however, as he starred in Real Madrid’s 2 – 1 win over Manchester United in Macedonia.
Jose Mourinho’s side were forced to dance to Isco’s tune on the night as the Spaniard, operating in the number 10 position, orchestrated another Real Madrid victory.
It was Isco’s goal that proved decisive on the night after he slotted into the bottom corner having playing a one-two with Bale early in the second period. It was his 34th strike for Real Madrid on what was his 192nd appearance.
Among all of this, it is important to remember that as it stands, Isco will be out of contract next summer.
A renewal is pending, however, with the midfielder revealing that a deal was “very close” after Tuesday’s Super Cup success.
Isco only turned 25 in April, but he has already won three Champions League titles, one La Liga crown, one Copa del Rey and two Club World Cups with Los Blancos.
No longer a bit-part player, Isco, has well and truly turned his Real Madrid career around.