The rivalry shared between Spanish footballing giants Real Madrid and Barcelona is one of the fiercest ever in world football. Fans from both sides are eager to witness a triumph over the opposition at any cost with a top quality performance in an El-Classico more than capable of heralding a player to cult status despite all his lacunas over the years.
The rivalry extends off the field as well with players encouraged to adopt an attitude of intense dislike or hate towards their rivals at every stage which has been certainly been crystal clear over the years. Several footballers who dared to switch from Real Madrid to Barcelona or vice-versa like Luis Enrique, Luis Figo purely for footballing reasons were termed as “traitors”, enjoying a welcome capable of shaking one’s soul to the core.
At the same time, in certain cases, such decisions are nothing short of a necessity with lack of game time, opportunities forcing a young footballer to consider the extreme.
Real Madrid midfielder Isco faced a similar dilemma way back in 2016 after growing frustrated following long-term stints on the sidelines. The young Turk found it difficult to break into the 4-3-3 system encouraged at the Bernabeu with intense competition for opportunities in midfield.
Italian manager Carlo Ancelloti who had invested faith in his services after splurging a sum of €30 million demonstrated no interest in involving the Spanish lad with his successor, Rafa Benitez, adopting a similar viewpoint despite all his capabilities.
Former Real Madrid footballers like Ivan Helguera were extremely critical of his gameplay deeming him as a player with no end product. He said: “Isco doesn’t make assists. He doesn’t score goals. He’s not good in the air. He doesn’t win the ball back. He doesn’t convince me. He could give much more, but the Bernabeu applauds him for doing a ‘croqueta.’ What do his moves end up as?”
Barcelona had offered a lucrative signing on bonus of €20 million along with the opportunity to feature alongside footballing superstar Lionel Messi whom the 26-year-old holds in great regard. A wrong decision at such a stage would have been nothing short of “hara-kiri” for his future which Isco was well-aware of. However, despite the advice of well-wishers and friends who reportedly encouraged him to take a plunge into the unknown, Isco decided to remain loyal and bide his time in search of regular opportunities.
This decision has proved to be nothing short of a masterstroke in the current context with Isco emerging as one of the crucial elements of the Real Madrid outfit enjoying the confidence of both Zinedine Zidane and current manager Julen Lopetegui.
French footballer and former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane believed that Real Madrid had adopted a 4-3-3 formation which was extremely rigid in nature and lacked fluidity. The need for a player who could operate in the No 10 role, capable of setting up the game for the attackers was glaringly apparent. In such a scenario, Isco emerged as a godsend with his ability to circulate the ball to all parts of the ground at a rapid pace and ability to create opportunities out of thin air.
As his confidence slowly developed following regular opportunities with the first team squad, so did the frequency of goals and assists with the lanky midfielder emerging as a “Messiah” for his side. Isco has been a constant thorn in the side for his opponents with his ability to deceive the defenders with tricks and sudden transitions in pace, unleash a quickfire, accurate pass resulting in a goal within the blink of an eye.
One major reason behind his success at the Bernabeu has been the immense mental strength and will-power which he enjoys. Despite battling intense competition from the likes of Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Asensio, the young midfielder has always maintained a healthy attitude towards the game with a constant desire to improve his performances at every stage.
“In the end, if I’m not the star man with Ancelotti, Benitez or Zidane, I will not be foolish to look for problems where there are none. In the end, I’m responsible and that’s where I must improve.”
Isco enjoyed the highest number of appearances amongst superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric during Zidane’s reign with the 26-year-old a key factor behind their dominance with his maturity beyond the years and Iniesta like composure. He looks all set to deliver the same impact for manager Julen Lopetegui’s new look outfit, emerging as a messiah recently during the side’s 1-1 draw against Atletic Bilbao ensuring an inch-perfect finish under pressure with his teammates overawed by the physicality of the opposition.
Isco has emerged as an enigmatic messiah for the Los Blancos under Zinedine Zidane despite battling struggle initially and will be looking to continue the same in the coming months as well.
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