Talent, hard work and patience. Three qualities that are needed to reach the top and three qualities that have seemingly helped Real Madrid's midfield magician Isco eventually secure a much sought-after first-team starting role.
The 22-year-old has been sublime this season, so much so that he's taken the spotlight away from more established ‘Galacticos' such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema in recent weeks. Isco is not only a firm fans' favourite in the comforts of the Santiago Bernabeu, he has been receiving applause and ovations from fans of the opposition, too.
Last weekend's 2-0 victory at Elche hit a peak. With the clock running down and the hosts all-but having thrown in the towel, Isco's number was quite literally up in lights for him to be replaced by Alvaro Arbeloa with a minute of normal time remaining. The Elche fans did not get the chance to celebrate a goal but they did get the chance to celebrate the performance of a player who dazzled from start to finish.
The Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero were up on their feet for Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez, commonly known as Isco.
That performance not only caught the imagination of Madridistas, Elche and Spain fans alike, it also caught the attention of a manger who is faced with the welcome problem of squeezing all his superstars into one starting line-up. Carlo Ancelotti had been full of praise for Isco in the past but Saturday's pre-Villarreal press conference was the first time he cemented the former Malaga man's place in his starting line-up.
"If Isco is ready, he will always play," said the Italian. "His presence in the starting line-up is undisputed if he is healthy." The ‘BBC' of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano already had guaranteed spots in Ancelotti's team when fit and available and now, it seems, so does Isco.
The pressure had been mounting on Ancelotti but the Italian had been helped, in a round-a-bout way, by injuries to Luka Modric back in November and now James Rodriguez. Isco was behind both players in the pecking order at the start of the campaign but one man's loss is another main's gain and the Spain international has not looked a gift horse in the mouth.
There was still a lack of context that left a few question marks hanging over Ancelotti's statement, however. Did he imply that Isco will not be rested or left out in the current climate? Modric and James are still sidelined through injury - Isco will always play in their absences when he's available. Or did he mean the Benalmadena man will play from the off even if Madrid's squad is fully fit? The latter is more likely, given the backlash the coach would receive if Isco settles on the bench when the Croatian and Colombian are back in action.
Isco has always had the talent but Ancelotti has been keen for him to improve his defensive capabilities. When playing a 4-2-3-1 formation the answers are more straightforward but the Italian sticks stubbornly to his favourites 4-3-3 formation and that makes the midfield competition tougher. It also means each one of the midfield three needs to help out at the back - nobody is exempt.
The midfield maestro did not complain. He took the chance that was handed to him and took Ancelotti's demands on board. Not only does he shine in attack but he tracks back and helps plug the gap left by Marcelo when the Brazilian surges forward and he also chips in at winning the ball back. They may be different players, but Isco has mirrored that hard work that made Angel di Maria's season such a success last term when he was played deeper following the arrival of Gareth Bale.
So who makes way if the ‘BBC' have guaranteed starting roles alongside Isco when they're fit and healthy? Toni Kroos is one of the first names down on the team-sheet and Luka Modric's versatility in the middle should make him a part of that trio alongside Kroos and Isco. The fact that James is not due to return for at least a month, and possibly longer, will make things easier for Ancelotti and the fact that Lucas Silva is young and only a recent arrival should make him content enough to wait for more regular action next season.
Madrid can also switch to 4-4-2 but that should change little, with Gareth Bale dropping back to form the four, while Ancelotti has not completely ruled out switching back to a 4-2-3-1 that gives Isco more attacking licence on occasions.
The arrivals of Bale, in 2013, and James, in 2014, both looks to have stifled the progress of Isco at the Bernabeu. There were those who questioned his decision to sign for Madrid and face more time on the bench than on the pitch but that decision and his desire to succeed in the Spanish capital seem to have paid off. Isco arrived the same summer as another talented young Spanish player in Asier Illarramendi but the pair have taken contrasting paths.
That Ancelotti now considers Isco one of the first names down on the team sheet will be music to the ears of Madrid fans and will send shivers down the spines of La Liga defences. Madrid captain Iker Casillas described his young team-mate as "the most important player for the future of Spanish football" and now Ancelotti has taken strides to ensure he is perhaps the most important player for the future of Real Madrid, too.