His rise to the top of Spanish football has been meteoric. Adored by many, owned by one. Manuel Pellegrini has placed his trust in the 20-year-old attacker to spearhead Malaga‘s assault on all fronts this season and the boy from Benalmadena isn’t letting him down.
By Alistair Bennet – @abennet1992
The bubble was supposed to have burst for Malaga in the summer of 2012. After being taken over by Qatari royal Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, the Andalusian club spent vast sums of money on players like Santi Cazorla and Jeremy Toulalan, as well as some shrewd investments in Joaquin and Nacho Monreal; it looked as if it was all going to plan. Manuel Pellegrini guided them to fourth in the Primera Division which earned them a spot in the 2012-13 Champions League qualifying phase – for the first time in their history.
However, Shiekh Al Thani reined in his investment in the club and cash-flow problems ensued for Los Boquerones. They couldn’t pay their players’ wages on time and they were forced to sell Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon.
The club appeared to be in crisis but their financial situation soon stabilised and they qualified for the group stages of the Champions League after defeating Panathinaikos 2-0 on aggregate. The main reason to be cheerful, however, is the emergence of a certain 20-year old attacking midfielder.
Francisco Roman Alcarcon Suarez, Isco to the rest of us, is a product of Valencia’s youth system who couldn’t break in to the first team at the Mestalla. Manuel Pellegrini and Malaga noticed the potential though and bought him for €6 million in the summer of 2011. He played over 30 games in his first season for the Andalusians despite the presence of Cazorla – a player with so many similarities to the youngster. When the experienced Spanish international left in the summer, things changed.
Cazorla was undoubtedly the main creator in the Malaga side and he often offered a moment of genius to help the team when they needed it most – his last-minute free-kick at the Bernabeu in March was one of the most memorable moments of the Spanish season.
However, his departure has freed up Isco to be the fulcrum of an expansive Malaga attack. Losing a player of Cazorla’s quality could have been disastrous to their Champions League hopes but in the first round of the group stages, Isco inspired Malaga to a 3-0 win over Zenit St. Petersburg with two stunning goals.
His first goal was a great solo strike: he received the ball and in the same movement he had already went by a lunging Zenit defender, drifted inside past another before curling the ball past a helpless Vyacheslav Malafeev in goal.
His second was a terrific long-range strike. He received a lay-off on the edge of the box from Roque Santa Cruz, took one touch and then unleashed an unstoppable right-footed shot in to the top corner from 20 yards out. It was poise, precision and power all wrapped in one devastating blow.
It would have been easy for a 20-year-old wonderkid to get carried away with such a performance. However, his post-match comments were humble and mature: “We played a well-rounded game, myself and the entire team.”
He also paid tribute to Pellegrini by saying “the coach has always shown his confidence in us and we stuck together as a team. That’s the key to this victory”.
Despite not scoring in their next Champions League match, Isco was just as influential as Malaga defeated Anderlecht 3-0 in Belgium. It was his reverse pass that released Eliseu who chipped the goalkeeper for the first. While it was Eliseu’s turn to steal the show by scoring two delightful goals, it was Isco who constantly found space between Anderlecht’s defence and midfield to do the damage.
Malaga followed those performances up with four points from a possible six against Italian giants AC Milan which meant that they sealed their place in the last 16 of the Champions League and two draws in their last two group matches saw them finish as group winners.
After doing so well in the Champions League, it would have been easy for Malaga to be complacent in La Liga. Yet, Isco has been excellent domestically as well and his side currently sit fourth – the same position they finished in last season and that’s without the presence of Cazorla.
Isco’s, and Malaga’s, success in the Champions League has made Europe’s top clubs take notice of the young attacking midfielder. Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid have all been linked and with Isco having a €21 million release clause, a move to a bigger club could happen sooner rather than later.
Spain certainly has no problems in producing technically gifted, skilled midfield players. While Isco will have trouble breaking in to the national team with players like Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Juan Mata and Cesc Fabregas occupying the more advanced roles in midfield, he certainly has the talent to push them.
Blessed with pace, flair, an eye for goal, the ability to play the killer pass and mesmerising dribbling skills, he may not be the complete package yet, but there aren’t many other young players with as much talent as him. He’s arguably been the break-out star of the 2012-13 Champions League.
After his magnificent performance against Zenit, Manuel Pellegrini said: “Isco is a player who has a great future and who is starting a great career; no one knows what his limit is. The important thing is that he is with Malaga.”
He might not be for long.
How long can Malaga keep hold of Isco? Is he good enough to break in to the national team? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below.