Isco restoring the class to El Clasico
He arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu in the shadow of Gareth Bale’s record-breaking transfer, but after playing understudy to the fabled BBC front three since 2013, he has finally elevated himself to Galactico status with a string of performances that could define the future direction of this Real Madrid side under Zinedine Zidane.
This is Francisco Roman Alarcon Suarez. This is Isco.
Many have praised the potential of Isco since his arrival from Malaga, but the natural order of attacking seniority dictated that his opportunities would be few and far between. His patience, like Zidane’s belief, was rewarded last season when a long-term injury to Bale offered him the chance to make his mark. He took the opportunity, and as the weeks passed, his place on the side was justified on merit rather than through Bale’s enforced spell on the sidelines.
Handed a place in the starting line-up for the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff, it was Bale who played understudy in his home town as he returned to full fitness, but recently the duo have combined with devastating effect. Playing in a deeper but unrestricted central role, Isco, now 25, has been entrusted with the creative freedom he needs to thrive, and Los Blancos are reaping the rewards for showing faith in his ability and vision.
Isco was instrumental in the UEFA Super Cup victory over Manchester United, and with his confidence at a premium, he provided the creative spark to inspire Real Madrid to victory at the Camp Nou on Sunday evening. It was a fitting stage for his talent, and as Barcelona regress even further away from the dominant side that enjoyed unparalleled success under Pep Guardiola, Isco’s passing range was reminiscent of that witnessed when Xavi and Iniesta were pulling the midfield strings together in their prime.
But there was another element to the Clasico that emphasised Isco’s class, and it was the crass actions of Cristiano Ronaldo that suggested that Real Madrid could enter a new era under Zidane sooner rather than later. Frustrated as a substitute, Ronaldo showed the good, the bad and the beautiful in his all too brief cameo appearance, and his actions stressed his desire to make amends for previous personal embarrassment at the expense of his Barcelona nemesis.
Lionel Messi made worldwide headlines last season when he scored his 500th goal for Barcelona, at the Santiago Bernabeu back in April. Incredibly, it was also the last minute winner in a crucial Clasico encounter, and he brought the curtain down by presenting his name and number to the crowd in a direct insult to brand CR7.
The defeat, and the manner of it, hurt Real Madrid, but as Messi stole the limelight in Ronaldo’s own theatre, it was the personal pride of the Portuguese talisman that took the biggest hit.
Roll forward to Sunday’s Spanish Super Cup tie, and the opportunity for revenge presented itself. Ronaldo came off the bench at the Camp Nou and scored a sublime goal. He mocked Messi with his celebration, this time it was the CR7 brand that was held aloft for the benefit of the Catalan faithful, and a summer spent in the gym ensured a defining image would adorn the world’s press the following morning.
But a further twist in the tale was to come. The token yellow card for Ronaldo’s show of celebration would later prove costly when he was adjudged to have dived in the penalty area. Harsh, but a second yellow card ensured he would indeed dominate the headlines, and for all the wrong reasons. The Portuguese's pent up frustration over Messi's actions would eventually lead to his own shame, and his petulant shove of referee Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea showed a sadly selfish, spoilt, and generally darker side, of his persona.
It was unnecessary and unprofessional, and his subsequent five-match ban will prove costly to his side. Zidane has his own red card demons to live with, but there was no justification to explain or tolerate the actions of Ronaldo’s latest act. Meanwhile, the emergence of Isco together with the talented Marco Asensio, suggests that there is no immunity for even the biggest star names at Real Madrid, and the development of this exciting duo will not be restricted by the established order.
Barcelona and Real Madrid meet again on Wednesday night to decide the Spanish Super Cup. The white ribbons are already being prepared ahead of a likely Madrid victory, and another defeat will leave further unanswered questions over the immediate direction of the Blaugrana.
By comparison, the future of Real Madrid appears bright, and another Isco-inspired Clasico will only serve to further enhance his already glowing reputation.