It’s safe to say it has been a frustrating start to the 2020/21 season for Isco, who has struggled to nail down a spot – let alone a starting one – in Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid team.
There are few players in the current Real squad who possess the ability to read the game and dazzle with moments of magic like Isco can, but while Los Blancos fans have been treated to these moments of brilliance during his seven-year stay, they have been few and far between.
The truth is the Spaniard has looked a shadow of his former self for a while now, so it isn’t much of a surprise to see him linked with a move away. In fact, the 28-year-old himself has now made clear his intentions to leave Madrid during the January transfer window as he searches for a fresh start.
Isco’s current situation at Real was perfectly summed up by his comments ahead of his side’s Clasico victory towards the end of October. The creative midfielder was caught on camera telling his teammates: “If he [Zidane] has to take me off, he takes me off in 50th or 60th minute of the game. Sometimes at half time. If he has to put me on, he puts me on at 80 minutes.”
Indeed, Isco let his frustration spill over and ended up voicing his displeasure at his current lack of game time to his teammates, completely oblivious to the fact that cameras were listening to what he was saying. The end result? He became the latest player to be ‘black listed’ by Zidane as he was left upset by his remarks, despite playing it down to the media.
There is actually truth to what Isco said as he is yet to play the full 90 minutes this term, and managed to do so just twice in 2019/20. This is despite the fact he made 30 appearances that campaign. For a player with so much skill, and someone many had thought Zidane could build his team around following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, these figures are somewhat startling.
But the reality is that while Isco has often been sacrificed at half time or brought on too late to try and change a game, even when he has been given chances from the start, he simply hasn’t taken them.
The Isco between 2016-18, where he was key to Real’s success, seems like a distant memory for fans now. No longer does he play with the same kind of passion and intensity, instead he is seen walking around the pitch and looking disinterested at points.
With the likes of Marco Asensio and Martin Odegaard also competing for a starting spot, Zidane doesn’t rely on the Spaniard anymore. In fact, the Frenchman gave the number 22 another chance from the start in Real’s last game prior to the international break against Valencia.
Operating as an attacking midfielder, Isco had the freedom to drift into pockets of space and influence the tempo of the game. But instead of taking his chance to hold down that position, he was barely involved and let the game simply pass him by.
This isn’t to say that Isco hasn’t produced moments of real quality even in recent seasons – of course he has, this is an extremely gifted player who was once a vital part of the team. He has even threatened to bounce back at points in recent years, putting in a number of bright displays – such as his showing against Valencia in the Supercopa back in January.
But his consistency over an extended period of time has waned, in stark contrast to three seasons ago. With a lack of hunger and intensity to his game, Zidane simply can’t depend on him and as a result, he has even turned to the likes of Fede Valverde to play in a slightly more advanced role, rather than calling on the former Malaga man.
Isco knows his time is up, Zidane does and, moreover, Real Madrid’s supporters – perhaps reluctantly in some quarters – do too. His contract is up in 2022, so it makes perfect sense to part ways in the January transfer window, so a decent transfer fee can at least be commanded.