In just under three years, 24-year-old Isco has already established himself as one of the stars of the Santiago Bernabeu – amassing just short of 150 appearances for Real Madrid, collecting Copa del Rey and Champions League winners medals along the way and earning the trust of Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and now Zinedine Zidane. So too was he allowed to shine at Malaga under Manuel Pellegrini and for Vicente Del Bosque at international level.
Despite being born in Andalucia, southern Spain, he started his career on the east coast with Valencia. He debuted for the club’s ‘B’ side at the age of 16, making his full first-team debut two years later.
His performances were so compelling that it convinced Malaga to splash out €6m to activate his release clause the following year, and he went on to shine on the Costa del Sol as a key playmaker over the next two seasons, including a remarkable European run which saw Manuel Pellegrini’s side come within two minutes of the Champions League semi-finals.
A month before that exit, Isco won the first of his 14 international caps, while his fine form helped the Under-21 side to European glory that summer, where he also won the tournament’s Bronze Boot with three goals. His performances led Marca journalist Pablo Polo to describe him as being “the most promising young player in Spanish football”.
It was then when Madrid pounced for the talented playmaker as part of Malaga’s cost-cutting exercise – they were never going to hold onto their prized asset for long. Whereas previously he had starred as the furthest-forward midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Ancelotti deployed him in a deeper role at the Bernabeu.
Initially, this was seen as a sacrifice of Isco’s natural attacking instincts, but it wasn’t long before he began to excel in his adapted role. Controlling the tempo of games and maintaining the fluidity between the defence and attack were his new responsibilities, compared to dribbling through several challenges before eventually threading through a perfect delivery or firing into the corner of the net.
At Madrid his vibrant style of play – constant movement with and without the ball – has drawn continual plaudits, with his anticipation and reading of the game second to none, so much so that many madridistas compare his playing traits to that of Zizou, while his former captain Iker Casillas believes he is developing into Spain’s most important player.
Isco’s skill, adaptability and work ethic have never been in question, and now neither is his importance in Vicente Del Bosque’s squad. This summer represents the midfielder’s first real opportunity of shining at a major tournament, and he looks set to grab it with both hands.