Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez - Isco as he is known to the footballing world - stands out by fitting in. He is unassuming, gregarious and doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. But the world is starting to and it won’t be long before he climbs the list of Ballon d’Or potentials and takes over the Real Madrid team like he has the Spanish national side.
Football is built around organising principles. That is, things are typically organised around one thing and everything else positions itself based on that central figure. Similar to the sun at the centre of the solar system, Messi and Ronaldo are the central pivots around which their respective football teams turn. Isco is not quite that central figure at Real Madrid yet but his form for Spain is where the debate starts and a partial view into what the future holds. When he does become that central figure, as seems more than likely, how long will it be before the 25-year old is revered like Neymar and considered a potential ballon d’Or winner like Eden Hazard?
Isco does many things very well and he can beat you in many different ways. He has the craft to escape from the most dubious situations, the speed and strength to plough through back lines, the technical ability to find passes others only see on the replay and he plays with his head up, always. Take a look back at Bale’s goal against Real Sociedad and you see Bale’s willingness to get in behind before the ball even left Isco’s foot. He knew Isco could deliver it and Real Sociedad were left wanting. On that same note, he could have as easily run with it himself. It’s this multi-faceted game that will separate him from the rest when it’s time for the hierarchy to re-organise itself at Real Madrid.
Isco with a typical turn away from Albania's Taulant Xhaka as Spain control the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier. Denis Doyle (Getty Images)
The slightly bow-legged gait and his size was what forced Manchester United to stay away when his name was mentioned years ago. “He's good, but not quite quick enough and his head is too big for his body,” is how ESPN say he was described when the Premier League club scouted him. As those criticisms fall by the wayside, like would be tacklers on one of the 25-year-old’s intrepid runs, Isco is building a head of steam looking ahead to the World Cup next summer.
The €700 million release clause that was inserted into his recent contract renewal with Real Madrid was symbolic but it also revealed a very real fear that his value to other clubs might be getting somewhere near that figure as we see transfer spending spiral out of control. Isco is not just a part of Real Madrid’s future. He is their future.
He is perfectly placed to take over this Real Madrid team too and become that organising principle. With Ronaldo well into his 30s and Old Father Time creeping up on Luka Modric too, Isco, at 25, will hit his peak before the likes of Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos can iron out the inconsistencies that typically haunt younger players’ games. The Malagueño has a three to five-year window to make a case for himself for the Ballon d’Or. He has already laid claim to the title of Spain’s main man and the wheel-greaser of a team looking like early favourites; a team with so much attacking talent that it is almost unfair, with Isco at the top of the food chain, given recent form.
To suggest that the changing of the guard is some formal process would be to undersell football and sport’s ability to forget and to change without much ado. Isco, who at one point could not make it into the Real Madrid or Spanish team is now the central figure in the latter and on the brink of becoming the main man in the former. The day after Spain beat Italy, with Isco routinely making some of the best players in the world and his contemporaries look like Sunday-leaguers, Argentina’s Ole newspaper lead with the headline, “Spain prays to Pope FrancIsco…” It won’t be long before fans come on bended knee to the Bernabeu to catch a glimpse of their star.
As it stands, however, he remains in the shadow of Ronaldo and others, as his importance to the team has not fully seeped in yet. If we learned anything from Neymar’s theory on winning the Ballon d’Or, it is that you need to have you own team before you are ever mentioned in that category. Messi’s Barcelona, Neymar’s PSG and soon, Isco’s Real Madrid. The Brazilian left Barcelona to escape the shadow of Messi but Isco never had any doubt. “There is no club bigger than Madrid and I want to stay here for a long time,” was how he put it before signing the new deal that will keep him at the club into his 30s. Isco knows that if trophies, titles and individual accolades are in his future, making sure he is in the starting XI at Real Madrid is the best place to be.
It’s just a matter of people realising the importance of Isco in every team he plays for and he’s doing the job of convincing people of that fact with every game he plays.