Following his man-of-the-match performance against Italy this week, Francisco Roman Alarcon Suarez, thankfully known as Isco, has all but completed his rise to prominence. After three seasons, mainly on the bench at Real Madrid, there was growing worry that the boy who shone at Malaga would never step out of the shadow of the Real Madrid’s current ‘Galacticos’. Not that there is too much worry of that happening now though, as the elegant Spaniard has dribbled his way up the pecking order, displacing a certain Gareth Bale along the way.
Born in Benalmadena, known more for hordes of British tourists than producing Galacticos, Isco started his journey to the very top of Spanish and world football in Valencia’s B team. He scored an impressive 15 goals as the second team were promoted to third-tier Spanish football in 2010-11, securing a move to Malaga.
The young attacking midfielder was thrust into the starting lineup immediately, but would have to wait a while longer for his first top-flight goal. He finally scored in mid-November against Racing Santander in a 3-1 win. Whilst not scoring bags of goals at his new club, Malaga gave 19-year-old Isco the perfect opportunity to develop his physique and impeccable technique we know today. It certainly worked as he has become one of the most technically gifted creative players in Europe.
In the 2012-2013 season, Isco and Malaga had the chance to showcase themselves in the Champions League. As the team reached the quarter finals, Isco himself managed three goals and four assists in eight Champions League appearances, enough to secure the European Golden Boy Award. The coveted award has been won in previous years by the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paul Pogba and, erm…Anderson. It was also enough to draw the attention of Europe’s elite, specifically Real Madrid.
A €30 million transfer followed and Isco was unveiled as a Madrid player, four years after declaring himself “a bit of an anti-Madridista”, calling the club ‘arrogant’ and ‘lacking humility’. Awkward.
Nevertheless, since then Isco has had to persevere through long spells on the bench and as a bit-part-player before nailing down a first-team spot. It was Gareth Bale’s injury toward the end of 2016 which presented Isco with the opportunity to prove his worth. Taking advantage of his teammate’s bad luck, the 25-year-old has been on stunning form for almost all of the calendar year so far.
What Isco adds to the team is an almost perfect touch, with dribbling second only to Lionel Messi. In fact, he can almost be likened to the Argentine in terms of style of play when on the ball. Isco himself has named his dog after Messi, claiming he is ‘the greatest of all time’. Again, awkward.
To back up his playing style there are multiple nutmeg compilations available on YouTube, whilst they aren’t an accurate measurement of how good a player is, there is no more humiliating a move to an opponent, and no greater pleasure to watch. Anyone can testify to the embarrassment of being nutmegged, and the bragging rights it comes with. Not that Isco goes around the opponent dressing rooms after it, ball under arm, shouting ‘waheyyyy’ and pointing at the poor victim I’m sure.
For the first time since joining, Isco is a permanent presence in the starting eleven, fitting the criteria needed for Real Madrid’s next Galactico. After scoring 10 goals and nine assists in 30 games, the stats back up the creative flair Isco brings to the team. He also fits the physical Galactico ‘image’ that President Florentino Perez sculpts the team by. This superficial image is arguably one of the reasons why Angel di Maria was ultimately moved on to Manchester United. A player’s appearance and shirt sales are unfortunately an important part of being a Madrid player, not just merit based on performance.
After proving himself as a member of the current Madrid first team, the emergence of Isco and Marco Asensio have brought new and exciting variables to the table as to what future Madrid teams will look like. With Cristiano Ronaldo well into his thirties and Karim Benzema’s future permanently unsure, the two young Spaniards are arguably the safest members of the current crop, and certainly the ones which the Galactico image will be moulded around for years to come.
Taking advantage of transition at international level, Isco has also made himself an indispensable member of the Spanish national team. With 14 goals in 19 games at Under-21 level, Isco brought his form to senior level, with 6 goals in 22 caps.
In 2015, Iker Casillas claimed Isco would go on to be Spain’s most important player. Two years on, current Spain goalkeeper David De Gea said post-demolition of Italy, “he will become one of the greatest.” Even Italy manager Gian Piero Ventura, rather unpatriotically, praised Isco’s class and admitted he ‘couldn’t help but applaud’. With the World Cup looming in 2018, Isco will undoubtedly be Spain’s talisman as they enter the tournament as early favourites.