In a team chock-full of big names and even bigger signings, it's easy to forget about the rest of the squad. We're always looking for BBC to score, Modric and Kroos to orchestrate the midfield, Pepe, Ramos and Marcelo to do their thing and Keylor to make impossible saves.
But what about when the squad, and the defensive line in particular, gets lean due to suspension or injury, what then?
Well you call on José Ignacio Fernández Iglesias (Nacho) to fill any gap you might have, that's what.
Nacho began at Real Madrid in the youth system at the ripe age of 11. As he progressed over time, he made his senior debut in 2008 in Segunda B and in April 2011 made first team debut at left back and played the entire game. In 2012 Morinho named him to the first team, but he would still play with Castilla. Then, in 2013, Nacho was named officially full-time to the first team and took 18 after Albiol's departure.
We've watched him play the role of utility substitute defender for 3 seasons now, and I think there isn't one of us who doesn’t value him on our team. But just how uniquely valuable is he?
What makes him highly under-rated as a player
One word - quality. Let' face it. Nacho would be a star on many, many teams in Europe's top 5 leagues. In fact, before we go any further, I'm going to go so far as to say it would be scary to see just what kind of player Nacho would develop into if he was actually a starter on a top team.
To wit, one the biggest, almost unbelievable things about Nacho is just how good he is, and how he continues to improve, with relatively little playing time. We see all the time young starlets swooped up by big clubs only to ride the bench and never develop to their full potential unless they get shipped off somewhere to get regular minutes. How many of those young players actually keep getting better when they hardly ever play?
This guy, that's who. Feast your eyes on some of the highlights from the last two seasons.
The thing that marvels, is that these highlights reels are really indicative of the way Nacho plays pretty much every minute of every game he's in. Especially over the last two seasons, when called upon to play any position across the back, he's delivered time and again.
Why he is one of the most indispensable squad players on the planet
Zinadine Zidane has himself one of the most indispensable players on the planet and he knows it. First of all, how many defenders can play so seamlessly in any position across the entire back line? Nacho may be more at home, or at least have more experience playing CB, but he's been called upon to play LB more than anything and delivers balanced play with aplomb. That he can fill anyone of three positions if needed, is almost unheard of.
Secondly, Nacho's passion for this club is unquestioned. I would probably still say Arbeloa bleeds more white (even though he's gone) but you gotta believe that Nacho is right up there when it comes to unfettered loyalty to Los Meringues. Rumors have been flying regarding possible transfers for a couple seasons, and rightfully so. But the fact that Nacho remains is a testament to how much winning titles with his team means to him.
Moreover, Nacho seems to not only not mind his role on the team, but actually relish in it. It takes a special kind of player to not only be content with this kind of role, but maintain the drive and professionalism to excel in it. Everyone dreams of being a superstar, but how many people are surrounded by superstars and continue to elevate their game to legitimately play at the level of these superstars in a substitution role only when needed?
I know the fanbase at the Bernabeu, and certainly many on this site have plenty a large soft-spot in their hearts for Nacho. His dedication, skill, consistency and versatility truly make him a gem to have on this squad and I just wanted to dedicate some well-deserved ink to our own number 6.
Aside from his glorious beard, what else makes Nacho so awesome?