Much has been made of Mesut Ozil’s extistential crisis at Arsenal this season; shunned to the sidelines as big occasions pass him by.
But he’s not the only creative wizard now having to settle for a place on the bench.
Over in Spain both Philippe Coutinho and Isco – arguably the two most eye-catching midfielders on the planet – are being left in the dark.
Coutinho currently resembles an expensive spare part, the third priciest player of all time left twiddling his thumbs.
Meanwhile Isco, previously regarded as the poster boy of Spanish football, is barely threatening the Real Madrid starting XI.
Coutinho has been the victim of practicality.
Barcelona can still be swashbuckling but Ernesto Valverde has prioritised a more pragmatic approach to ensure an ageing Sergio Busquets is less exposed.
Despite starting his Nou Camp career like a house on fire, Coutinho has failed to start any of Barca’s last four games.
A muscular injury in early November coupled with the emergence of midfield metronome Arthur has scuppered his impact.
The Brazilian is now battling with Ousmane Dembele for one available role just as the Frenchman has hit a purple patch.
While Coutinho was sidelined, Dembele either scored or assisted in six of his eight appearances which featured a crucial last-gasp equaliser at Atletico Madrid.
Much like Jurgen Klopp did at Liverpool, Valverde has sacrificed Coutinho’s creative assets for the collective good.
Across the Clascico divide, Isco now finds himself behind the likes of Dani Ceballos and Marcos Llorente in the pecking order.
Many feel the diminutive Spaniard should be the heartbeat of Real’s side, but Santiago Solari is now the third Los Blancos manager to look elsewhere.
It’s not saying much given their historic fickleness, but the Bernabeu boo boys were out in force after Isco again flattered to deceive during the defeat to CSKA Moscow before Christmas.
“You can’t count on him but not 100%. If I was him, I would be worried,” former Real player Pedja Mijatovic told Spanish radio station Cadena SER.
Isco was duly left out of Solari’s first five games in charge and has started just five times in La Liga all season.
Real are in transition after a desperate eight months since winning the Champions League.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane are gone and an ageing squad is now creaking.
Isco, at 26, should be hitting the zenith of his career, but instead he’s a silent witness watching the chaos unfold.
The parallels between the Spaniard and Coutinho are obvious and might be a sign of the times.
The two players most likened to Andres Iniesta have struggled to live up to the hype just as the great man departed the European stage.
Traditional number tens like Coutinho, Isco and Ozil are suffering in a footballing universe neglecting luxury players.
For their next trick, the three magicians will simply try to get off the bench.
- Mesut Ozil is suffering the same fate most great playmakers eventually go through
- The death of the number 10: is football’s most iconic position in danger of dying out?
- Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has gone from Europe’s hottest property to Lucas Leiva’s shadow