With Real Madrid's treatment room filling up before last week's Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti said "in Madrid there are no problems, only solutions". Now the Italian has some problems within his solutions.
It was always going to happen. Real Madrid has a squad packed full of the world's best players but at least one star is always going to be on the bench and at least one star is always going to want more minutes. Javier Hernandez and Jese Rodriguez have already voiced their concerns at a lack of minutes on the pitch this season but the latest concerns stem from one of Madrid's leading men.
"I am not very content," midfield magician Isco said after featuring in the 1-0 victory over Atleti that sent Madrid through to a Champions League semi-final date with Juventus. The former Malaga man had played the full 90 minutes but he was only in the starting eleven because of injuries elsewhere. "I thought I had been playing well."
For want of a better phrase, Ancelotti has been ‘lucky' enough not to have faced too many matches where he has had to leave a big name out of his starting eleven. Isco has made 22 La Liga starts this season and 37 appearances overall in all competitions but recent matches have shown that when everyone is fit, he is the one to suffer. Injuries to Gareth Bale and Luka Modric have allowed the Spain international to be all-but a permanent fixture this term. Those injuries have helped Ancelotti keep his main men happy - they have largely solved his welcome selection headaches.
Madrid's 2-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano earlier this month showcased the Italian's strongest eleven. With all of his attacking gems available, the ‘BBC' led the way and they were backed up by Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and Luka Modric. It was Madrid's showcase attacking six, although some believed it was president Florentino Perez's front six, too.
Within Ancelotti's selection dilemma comes political power. Isco cost a pretty penny but the arrivals of Bale and James Rodriguez, those who are in direct competition with the Malaga-born midfielder, dwarfed his signing in the summer of 2013. Perez does not want to see two of his biggest-ever signings sitting on the bench. When they are fit, they play.
Ancelotti knows that, the Madrid fans know that and Isco knows that. The Italian was asked about Isco's quotes in Saturday's press conference ahead of the trip to Celta Vigo but he played the story down. "Nobody is happy without minutes, that's normal," he said. "Nacho, Chicharito, Isco...they aren't happy but they are playing well when given the chance."
"If we all stick together we will go further," Isco said through social networks after his post-Atleti complaints surfaced. A quick act to dispel any stories of his unhappiness at being on the bench but those raw comments in the Bernabeu mixed zone said everything.
Madrid have a problem with Isco. They have an embarrassment of riches in their squad but they have a player who has been arguably Madrid's best for long spells this season. A player who has not only wowed the Bernabeu but who has wowed visiting stadiums too, in the white of Madrid and in the red of Spain. Club captain Iker Casillas described his team-mate as the future of Spanish football and yet when Ancelotti has his full squad fit and available he is only good enough for the bench.
The former Valencia man is 23 and he is beyond the position of being happy as a Bernabeu bench-warmer. His opportunities this season have seen him grow as a player, perhaps more than in any other season, and his ambitions are such that he will not play second fiddle to Bale, James and co. next season. A decision awaits the Madrid star over where his future lies. He will not want a season of limited opportunities next term.
There will be no shortage of suitors if Isco wants out. Manchester City were close to signing him before he opted for the Spanish capital and even Barcelona have had tentative links to the player, the one that got away. Madrid will be well aware and they face a big dilemma over how their young star fits into their future plans.
On paper he should be slotting into Perez's plans perfectly. Madrid spent the summer of his arrival trying to sign the best young Spanish players to mould a Spanish-centred team for the future. Asier Illarramendi also came in and Dani Carvajal returned from a year in Germany. Isco has out-shone them both, has become a Spain regular, is the most aesthetically pleasing of Madrid's players and is a huge fans' favourite up and down the country. He is young, extremely skilled, a Spanish international and sells shirts. He should be in the starting eleven but instead he finds himself on the fringes.
It is not all about politics. Ancelotti has played a part in the problems and not only because he seems to accept that political pressure on his starting eleven. The Italian deemed the starting role of the ‘BBC' as "non-negotiable" earlier this season and after the turn of the year, when Isco was enjoying arguably his best form, he fell into the same bracket. Only his position is negotiable, as has been showcased with his place on the bench over the last month.
Isco will feature heavily for the rest of the season due to Modric's injury absence and could chalk up almost 50 appearances across all competitions for Madrid this term. He is, however, clearly thinking about his long-term future and Madrid will also have to think about their own long-term future with or without the Spain star forming a central part.