Isco looking for place with Real Madrid
Only a year ago, Real Madrid started to embark on a new transfer policy. Gareth Bale came in as the usual summer 'Galactico' purchase by president Florentino Perez, but the focus was bringing in young, Spanish players to build a squad not only for the present but also for the future.
Los Merengues activated the buy-back clause in Dani Carvajal's deal with Bayer Leverkusen after a hugely successful season-long stint in Germany, Asier Illarramendi was bought for 34 million pounds from Real Sociedad, with the aim of eventually replacing Xabi Alonso, and 23 million pounds were forked out for Malaga attacking midfielder Isco. Madrid still splashed the cash but Perez was keen to get value for money and keen to invest in Spanish talent.
A year on and that investment and talent looks to have gone somewhat to waste. While Carvajal has made the right-back slot his own after a successful first season back with Madrid, the futures of Illarramendi and Isco look in doubt after Perez got the chequebook out for World Cup stars Toni Kroos of Germany and James Rodriguez of Colombia this summer. A relatively cheap 20 million pounds was spent on World Cup-winner Kroos, who was admittedly entering the last year of his contract at Bayern Munich, while Los Blancos made Rodriguez, the Golden Boot winner in Brazil, one of the most expensive players in the world by paying Monaco 60 million pounds for his services.
If the talent was not enough -- and, admittedly, both players ooze quality -- the politics at the Bernabeu will ensure both get big roles in Carlo Ancelotti's squad. Perez will not want to see his new star arrivals occupying the bench, at least not in the early months of the campaign. So where does that leave Isco, who looked set to be Madrid's 'Golden Boy' last season after hitting the ground running in the early weeks of the campaign?
After shining for Malaga, the self-confessed Barcelona fan shook off any pressure that was resting on his shoulders. Following his arrival in the Spanish capital he produced a star performance, an assist and a late winner to give his new side all three points against Real Betis on the opening day of the season. Boosted by his brilliant debut, Isco bagged four more goals in his next five matches and was an early season fan favourite. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.
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That was until Gareth Bale's arrival. As with Mesut Ozil, who decided his future was better placed elsewhere, and Angel di Maria, who also hinted at a move elsewhere, Isco's starting role was under threat. Ancelotti tinkered with his tactics to make a three-pronged attack that would ultimately prove successful but that left Isco out in the wild. Now with Kroos and Rodriguez adding to that magnificent midfield, the future of the young Spaniard may be better placed elsewhere, too.
The 22-year-old has travelled with the rest of the Madrid squad for their now-regular pre-season tour of the United States, but his confidence must have taken a knock following the club's decision to ring in two of the World Cup's biggest stars. Despite Bale's arrival Isco still went on to make 29 appearances for Los Blancos after adjusting to Ancelotti's new style of play.
With a few fleeting appearances in the 'false 9' role not looking to suit him, the Spanish under-21 international took on board his manager's request to add a more defensive aspect to his game so that he could line up in Madrid's middle three. He did just that and looked more than capable in his new-look position, albeit a position that he still could not make his own thanks to Alonso, Luka Modric and the emergence of a superb Di Maria. Now that work may have gone to waste.
Ancelotti may tinker with his formation again this season to suit his squad. But however the European champions line up, Isco's role looks sparing. A continuation of the 4-3-3 that saw Los Blancos clinch the double last season should see new boy Kroos join Alonso and Modric in the middle while the need to accommodate Rodriguez and thus change to a 4-2-3-1 would see the former Malaga man miss out, too. Whichever way you look at it next season, Isco is going to find it incredibly difficult to get the game time he craves at the Bernabeu.
Manchester City have been admirers of the midfield man as far back as last summer when they went head-to-head with Madrid for his services. City boss Manuel Pellegrini worked with him during his successful playing days at La Rosaleda, meaning the Premier League champions have the manager, the cash and the pull to lure Isco to England should Los Blancos, or the player, decide he should move on.
All is not completely lost, however. Di Maria and Sami Khedira, who will also face big battles for a starting role, have been linked with moves away from the Bernabeu and although the Madrid midfield is packed, Ancelotti will not be keen to loose all three when his aims for the season will be battling for trophies on no fewer than six fronts. A big squad is needed if that is to be achieved -- and boy would Perez like that to be achieved.
One thing is for sure. If Isco is to become the player Madrid fans saw and loved at the start of last season he will have to fight tooth and nail a year on. A place in the XI will not be as comfortable as 12 months ago as Perez returns to his 'Galactico' policy after the brief romanticism of building a Spanish-based starting XI. Will he go the way of Di Maria and battle for a place in Ancelotti's line-up? Or will he head the same direction as Ozil -- England with more first-team opportunities. A big month lies ahead for the undoubted young talent.