From being an extra to indispensable for Real Madrid - The Isco Disco continues?
When James Rodriguez arrived at Real Madrid, he was asked a simple question – “Which Real Madrid player has surprised you the most with his quality?”. His answer – Isco!
James’ response now appears to be a no-brainer! Come up with a list of the most improved players in the past year and Isco Alarcon will not be far off the top. In fact for some, he would notch the pole position.
Isco’s aptitude was never under the scanner. It was this unfathomable talent which won him the Golden Boy award in the year 2012, when he was with Malaga FC. The then-Malaga manager – Manuel Pellegrini, who utilized Isco as his number 10 and gave him the license do be part of absolutely anything that Malaga created. That season, Malaga did well in the league as well as the Champions league – only to be beaten by Borrusia Dortmund at the death of an exciting second leg quarterfinal at the Signal-Iduna.
Isco’s performances during the 2012-2013 season entitled the ex-Valencia player to be one of the hottest prospects in the transfer market at the end of that season. Manuel Pellegrini had made his switch to Manchester City at the start of the 2013-2014 season and was keen on taking Isco along with him but Real Madrid had other ideas. No player in the world would turn down an offer to join the Los Merengues at any stage of their career and Isco was no different. He decided to join Real Madrid for a fee of 30 million and Real Madrid made him their first signing under the helm of their new manager – Carlo Ancelotti.
A good start at Madrid, but Carlo Ancelotti wasn’t impressed
Isco’s Real Madrid career did begin with a bang. He became an instant hit at the Bernabeu after scoring the winning goal against Real Betis and conjured up an assist in the game. He followed that up with two more well-taken goals against Athletic Bilbao. He also scored the opening goal against Galatasaray in his Champions League debut for Real Madrid. It seemed that the Benalmadena boy would not put a foot wrong in these early stages.
He quickly became a household name and managed to establish himself in the first team without breaking a sweat, but Ancelotti was still not impressed with the young Spaniard. Due to Isco’s lack of defensive attributes, he started losing his spot to Angel Di Maria, who contributed offensively as well as defensively. This benefaction gave Ancelotti a perfect exilir, which had the right amount of poise!
Things change quickly at the Bernabeu and Isco’s case was no different. He started finding himself more on the bench rather than on the pitch. Isco still managed to rack up 53 games (including starts and substitution), the most by any Real Madrid player in the 2013-2014 season, chipped in with 11 goals and on a personal level ended the season on a high after winning the long awaited La Decima and also the Copa Del Rey.
In the subsequent summer transfer window, Isco’s competition for a place in the team suffered a hammer blow as Real Madrid brought two world cup stars in James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos. Isco’s future looked desolate, but he decided to remain in the Spanish capital and fight out for a place in the team. Just when everyone thought that Real Madrid would destroy another promising youngster's career, Isco had luck on his side.
A change of scenario for Isco and Real Madrid
One of the standout stars of the 2013-2014 season, Gareth Bale injured himself which empowered Isco to weave his magic. He used this prospect to show that he is more than just a substitute. His performances started to speak for him and one of the instances where he showed his will to work his socks off was during the build up to the third goal in the El Clasico against Barcelona.
It was his running behind a lost cause which prompted Andres Iniesta to make a vital mistake and present the ball to Isco, who then passed it to Ronaldo and after a vital pass from James, Real Madrid for the first time seemed to defeat Barcelona convincingly. Isco's substitution earned him a standing ovation from the home fans and he continued to impress his fans all the more with his consistent performances.
Isco’s performances were such that Gareth Bale’s place in the team was under threat but luckily for both of them, another vital cog in Ancelotti’s well-oiled system – Luka Modric became the latest victim of an injury. The immediate diagnosis soon went from weeks to months and the diminutive Croatian midfielder was ruled out for four months. On asked upon his replacement, Ancelotti replied “Isco is another option for midfield. I’d like to try him out there. The only thing I’m worried about is the defensive aspect, but he’s an option just like Khedira and Illarramendi."
A week later, Isco came in as a direct replacement for the Croatian against newly promoted Eibar and his lively performance put a muzzle on all his doubters. His maturity and willingness to mould his game according to the need of the team helped him keep his place ahead of natural deep lying midfielders like Asier Illaramendi and Sami Khedira. Isco’s lofty performances helped Ancelotti forget the anguish of Modric’s injury and vindicated his decision to stick by the Spaniard!
His statistics of this season suggests that he is trying to balance his offensive duties with his defensive abilities. His new found penchant to do the dirty work when required is one of the major inclusions in his game.
- Minutes played – 2320
- Goals - 5
- Assists - 8
- Average Passing rate - 88.2%Average key passes per game - 1.7
- Average key passes per game - 1.7
- Average tackles per game - 2.2 (more than the mainstream Madrid defenders like Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Raphael Varane and Marcelo)
Isco’s metamorphosis shows his attitude and openness to adapt to the requirements of the team and his manager. As cricket pundit and commentator Harsha Bhogle rightly said once, "Talent will open the first door for you or probably the second one too, but it will never open the last one. After some point of time, the word talent is of zero importance. It is the attitude that makes all the difference.”
This attitude coupled with his consistent performances over the past few months vindicates the Madridistas’ love for this gem. To be cheered ahead of the likes of Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at the Bernabeu is a feat in itself and to be the only one cheered throughout the game is something that only players can only dream of. Isco’s roller coaster ride at the Bernabeu has seen him go from a starter to a substitute and from a substitute to an indispensable cog. As I had said earlier, things change quickly at the Bernabeu and Isco’s case proved to be no different.
From a golden boy to a golden man; Isco’s journey to the top has been nothing less than spectacular. It remains to be seen if he retains his spot when Ancelotti has James Rodriguez back at his disposal but considering Isco’s past performances, he has gone on to become the untouchable; miles ahead of each and every Galactico in the team. Mr Ancelotti has a decision to make and atleast this time, for once, everyone expects him to make a footballing decision instead of a political one.