Often seen as part of La Roja’s midfield for the foreseeable future, Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez – also known as Isco – faces a crucial season ahead of him at Real Madrid. It is his third season at the Spanish giants after a €30 million move from Málaga in the summer of 2013.
Fresh off winning the Golden Boy award and a trip to the quarterfinals in the Champions League, Isco made a choice between following his former manager Manuel Pellegrini to Manchester City and the Premier League or staying in Spain and playing for Los Blancos. In the end he decided to stay in his home country.
The 2013 summer transfer window for Madrid was highlighted by the capture of Gareth Bale from Tottenham, but Real also scooped up Spanish talent like Dani Carvajal from Bayer Leverkusen (€6.5 million) and Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad (€32 million), while promoting Jesé Rodríguez, Alvaro Morata and Nacho Fernández from the Castilla.
This was thought to be a movement towards a more home-grown and Spanish oriented team, much in the same way that Barcelona’s stars had risen up through the ranks of La Masia. In his debut season for Madrid, Isco made 32 appearances in the league, 23 of them being starts. He scored 8 goals, while providing 6 assists in 1991 minutes total to cap off a fairly promising season.
The summer of 2014 was the World Cup in Brazil and a coming out party of sorts for Colombian international James Rodríguez. The midfielder scored 6 goals and added 2 assists in just five matches. This breakout performance was enough for Real Madrid to plunk out €80 million to secure his services from AS Monaco. Despite the addition of Rodríguez, Isco appeared in 34 matches (26 starts) and played his third most minutes at the top level (2338).
When looking at Isco’s numbers compared to Rodríguez and other attacking midfielders there is cause for concern. You can see on the per/90 numbers that Isco is lower in almost every category except for Juan Mata. To be fair Mata was in his first full season at United under Louis van Gaal, who couldn’t decide where the Spaniard really fit in his starting XI.
When you play in a team that boasts the attacking talent and free flowing play of Real Madrid you would expect much higher assist numbers. Isco is normally set up on the right side of the midfield and shares the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, three of the most lethal offensive players in the planet. In comparison Mesut Özil contributed 13 assists and 9 goals in his final season at Madrid in only 23 starts and was frequently subbed off in the second half by Jose Mourinho.
As Madrid have begun the 2015 season under new manager Rafa Benítez it is clear that his first choice front four consists of Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale and Rodríguez. Unfortunately over the international break, Rodríguez tore his thigh muscle while playing in a pointless friendly against Peru. The Colombian is expected to be sidelined for at least a month, opening the door for Isco.
This is the perfect opportunity for the 23-year-old. He needs to grab the reigns and show he is more than a beautiful dribbler capable of producing Vine highlights and that he can play for one of the biggest teams in the world. In his first match in the starting XI for Madrid against Espanyol it should’ve been easy to shine.
Madrid played as if Espanyol was a junior varsity team and completely dominated them, winning 6-0 with Ronaldo scoring 5. Despite Isco starting the match lined up on the right you wouldn’t even have noticed he was on the pitch. Watching the bloodbath I didn’t even realize Isco was playing until he came up to congratulate Ronaldo after his three first half goals. These are the type of matches the young Spaniard needs to assert himself in and build confidence.
With Rodríguez injured he is automatically the first choice to start at that position and it is worrying if he can’t show he belongs. Benítez has urged his young midfielder to have more of an eye for goal and he certainly can improve upon the measly 4 he netted last season. Hell, Ronaldo had 5 in just the last match!
This season is truly make or break for Isco. He can prove he is an essential piece to the Real Madrid squad or become another Illarramendi, who left before the end of this summer’s transfer window back to Real Sociedad after failing to live up to the hype. If you believe the papers both Arsenal and Manchester City are among the clubs interested in Isco; he might have to move on to truly capitalize on his potential. For now the world will watch at how he adapts to the first XI at Madrid over the next month or so.