This time last year Isco’s days at Real Madrid appeared to be numbered.
Fast-forward 12 months and the man his team-mates call ‘Magic’ is the creative hub for club and country.
On Saturday night Isco illustrated why many feel he is in the form of his life with one of the standout individual performances in recent memory.
Not only did he tease and toy with Italy – supposedly the best defensive unit in world football – but he scored two sumptuous goals too in a dominant 3-0 win.
Spain were ruthless and emphatically ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifying matches, with Isco at the heart of absolutely everything.
It’s some turn around for the 25-year-old who seemed destined for the Bernabeu exit until Zinedine Zidane’s enduring faith shone through.
‘LUXURY PLAYER’ TAG
Isco has been regularly accused of prioritising style over substance whilst also failing to establish a consistent position.
The former Malaga man was behind Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez in Los Blancos’ pecking order until Zidane’s switch to a diamond took Real to a new level.
But tith Casemiro at the base, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos dictating play in front and Isco floating around in more advanced positions, Real now boast the best midfield quartet since Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Kaka dominated the mid 2000s at AC Milan.
Isco is the jewel in Zidane’s crown right now and has shaken off that ‘luxury player’ tag by combining seemingly effortless skill and guile with genuine match-winning performances.
In the last six months he ensured Real’s so called ‘B’ side clinched the La Liga title whilst their priorities lay with Champions League glory.
He then produced a silky man of the match display in that final against Juventus in May before tearing Manchester United apart in the Super Cup final at the start of August.
And Saturday night was the best of the lot, making mincemeat of two of the world’s best in Marco Verratti – who he nutmegged – and Daniele De Rossi.
Verratti, in fact, went onto say: “I learnt a lot today playing against Isco. I was in his pocket for 90 minutes so we were able to form a friendship.”
Isco has finally fulfilled his potential and at just the right time for Spain, with Andres Iniesta in his twilight years and the need for an heir to develop.
The bad news for Barcelona is he plays for Real Madrid.
For Real too the timing of Isco’s form has been crucial with question marks over Bale’s future prominent and Modric approaching his latter years too.
It’s testament to the player that amongst an embarrassment of elite talent for club and country he has been handed a free role to thrive in recent months.
If he keeps up this kind of form, would a Ballon d’Or nomination be out of the question?
EXCLUSIVE OFFER: England now 33/1 beat Slovakia
FANCY the Three Lions to coast to victory against Slovakia at Wembley?
Well get on Sun Bets’ huge 33/1 (new customers only) for England to win their World Cup qualifier.