We may not be even half way through the calendar year, but Francisco Román Alarcón, commonly known as Isco, has been in scintillating form since January. His performances have arguably rivalled that of both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best players in Spain. Game after game, be it against European titans like Bayern Munich or Atlético Madrid, or smaller sides like Sporting Gijón, Isco has stood out as one of the best players on the pitch. The Spaniard appears to have come of age this season, but the road to Real Madrid stardom has been all but smooth.
Signed by Real Madrid in 2013, Isco was 21 years of age and one of the most sought after young talents on the market. Madrid fans could not contain their excitement upon Isco’s arrival –- he was instrumental in leading underdogs Malaga to the Champions League Quarter-Finals and both he and Thiago were sensational as they guided Spain to the U21 European Championship title. His deftness of touch and close control are awe-inspiring and his ability to maneuver out of impossibly tight spaces makes him so fun to watch. Who can forget that elastico:
After winning the “Golden Boy” trophy in 2013, an award for the best player under 21 in all of world football, Isco’s potential was limitless. Fans and pundits alike could not help but compare him to Barcelona’s brilliant Spanish playmaker, Andres Iniesta. Though, Barcelona would not be able to land the Malaga man, as Real Madrid, and in particular assistant coach Zinedine Zidane, came calling. Reports in 2013 revealed that Zidane was a major factor behind Isco selecting Real Madrid over former coach Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City who were aggressively pursuing his signature. Zidane has always been a fan of Isco’s and vice-versa.
Isco scored the game-winning goal on his debut for Real Madrid. Most felt he would go on to cement his starting position under then head coach Carlo Ancelotti. It would not be that simple. A change in system to a 4-3-3, the same system predominantly used for Real Madrid since Isco’s arrival at the club, often meant he was the odd man out. Four years on and three coaches later, Isco is just now beginning to break down the walls that kept him from being a starter. The talent was always there, but inconsistent performances and lack of production in his early years at Madrid left many frustrated. Former Real Madrid center back, Ivan Helguera, did not hold back his words in an interview earlier this season with El Pais:
The main argument thrown at Isco was his lack of production — only seven La Liga goals in his previous two seasons out of 65 matches played. The lack of consistent match rhythm hurt his confidence and affected his game. When he and James Rodriguez played as inverted wingers in a four-man midfield against Barcelona in 2014, Madrid came out 3-1 winners and both playmakers were on top form. Isco was brilliant and game-changing in some matches, but then also non-existent in others. Year after year, Isco would fight for a starting position and often times would be relegated to the bench time and time again. The presence of the BBC and the lack of a #10 role were detrimental to Isco’s game time.
Despite the difficulties and the brutal competition (Bale, James, Asensio, Kroos, Modric) Isco has stayed and has fought to be at Real Madrid. Isco did not blame his coaches, he did not blame his circumstances; he looked at himself and tried to see what he could do better. He admitted such in an interview with Marca in 2016:
His perseverance is now paying dividends. The rough gem that arrived at Real Madrid in 2013, has become smooth and polished. The potential many foresaw in Isco is coming to fruition in 2017. Now 25 years old, Isco has come of age. He has scored a personal high of 13 goals this season, 10 of which have come in the five months of 2017 alone. He drives counter attacks forward, he holds the ball and relieves pressure, he hounds opposition and cuts passing lanes, he provides the final pass, and he scores goals —crucial goals as well (i.e. Sporting Gijón, Atlético Madrid). Isco has transformed himself into the complete midfielder. As each game passes, Isco makes himself more indispensable.
18 - Isco Alarcon has been involved in more goals than any other midfielder in La Liga this season (10 goals and eight assists). Honey. pic.twitter.com/uTOtQeMsW0— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 17, 2017
Many critics and opposing fans argue that Madrid cannot nurture talent or allow players to develop, but Isco has proved the opposite. Players can develop at Madrid, but only the best players end up making the grade. The former Malaga man has been vital to Madrid’s La Liga title challenge and Champions League knock-out round success as they dream of another year of European glory. Zidane, the team, and the Madrid faithful have recognized his influence and his growth. Come Sunday, Isco returns home to Malaga, where he will take the reins of Mighty Madrid as a star player hoping to grab his first La Liga title.