Back in 2013, Manchester United thought Isco’s head was too big. That’s what a scouting report said of the then Malaga playmaker, with the Old Trafford club deciding to make a move. Tuesday’s European Super Cup turned out to be a manifestation of their regret, with Isco sparkling as the best player on the pitch. He could be forgiven for having a big head.
Indeed, if ever a demonstration was needed of how central Isco has become to Real Madrid over the past six months or so, it was offered up in his performance in Macedonia earlier in the week. Everything the reigning double European champions did flowed through the 25-year-old. United simply couldn’t keep a grip of him, with their defenders unsure whether to step out to meet him and their midfielders uncertain in their efforts to drop back to pick him up.
As a member of the best team in world football, Isco stood out. Of course, this isn’t unusual. He really came into his own towards the back end of last season, with Gareth Bale’s injury affording him a prolonged run of games in the first team, perhaps for the first time. It was an opportunity he made the most of, becoming the embodiment of Zinedine Zidane’s side as they swept to a LaLiga and Champions League double.
That is perhaps the most significant aspect of Isco’s rise. While Cristiano Ronaldo might be the current Ballon d’Or holder, holding a claim to be the best football player of all time, it is Isco who best communicates what Zidane wants from his Real Madrid. It wasn’t until Isco came into the side as a permanent fixture after the turn of the year that we truly saw his team, until we finally saw his ideas come to fulfilment.
This season could prove to be even more significant for the 25-year-old, though. World football finds itself at a juncture, with the era of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo starting to wind down. Both players are into their thirties now, with their immortality becoming more and more of a factor in their play. It’s time for others, including Isco, to make the step up on to their perch.
There’s no reason why Isco can’t join such company this season. Zidane is now building his Real Madrid side around the playmaker, constructing a system to get the best from him. For so long, everything at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu has been geared towards Ronaldo. He is still the face of Real Madrid, but from a tactical perspective, that might no longer be the case.
Recently signing a bumper contract extension at the club, Isco has become the image of the new Real Madrid. It took him a while to find his feet at the Bernabeu, even struggling for game time as recently as the early part of last season, but that induction period seems to have served him well. He is steeped in what it means to play for Zidane. Isco, more than anyone else, understands what he wants.
What’s more, the time is right for Isco to become the game’s next global great. Neymar is close to such a level, but will find himself out of the spotlight somewhat at Paris Saint-Germain (at least for games in Ligue 1). Bale reached similar heights not so long ago, but has lost his way since, and things at Barcelona are too uncertain for Luis Suarez to stake a claim.
The crown is there for Isco to take and his display against Man Utd shows that he might already have one hand on it.