It used to be a case of ‘no Isco, no disco’ at Real Madrid. Now there’s a broken-record feel to his prolonged absence from the starting line-up.
His tweet this week, in which he complained about a lack of opportunities, roused a few of his most ardent supporters but after Santiago Solari engineered a draw at the Nou Camp and has the team on an upward curve in La Liga the outrage at him being left out is increasingly muted. Former Real Madrid player Ruben de la Red had tweeted earlier this week: ‘Isco has to understand that Madrid waits for no one.’
Isco responded: ‘Totally in agreement with De la Red but when you don’t enjoy the same opportunities as your team-mates the thing changes.’ Does he have a point? Certainly his minutes in the first team have been massively reduced under Solari. He ranks 21st in the squad in terms of time on the pitch since the Argentinian coach took over. Only Vallejo, Mariano and Brahim Diaz are playing less.
And it’s also true that in a brief appearance in Real Madrid’s last league win he played a sublime pass in the build-up to the team’s third goal. But Solari’s resistance in playing Isco has led to better not worse results. Real Madrid without Isco in the side play with greater intensity, defend better and are offensively more direct.
Ruben de la Red tweeted this week: ‘Isco has to understand that Madrid waits for no one’
Isco responding in kind and complained about a lack of opportunities at the club
Lucas Vazquez – one of those consistently ahead of him in the pecking order – has been one of the team’s best players since the turn of the year. Isco supporters have pointed to the way, despite Marcelo’s apparent cliff-edge drop in form and fitness, he still featured in the starting line-up on Wednesday at the Nou Camp. But there are two reasons why it’s unfair to accuse Solari of double standards. Firstly there seems to be some sort of royal decree that means a game of cup semi-final importance must have Marcelo starting.
‘He’s the club captain’ was Solari’s telling post-match comment on a player who he clearly has lost faith in judging from the way 23-year-old Sergio Reguilon is now the first-choice left-back in the league. And secondly, if there is some unspoken rule that means Marcelo must play in certain games – as unfair as that may be – it can at least be said that after a decade of service playing more games and winning more medals than almost any other overseas player he has deserved some sort of respect. Isco is yet to earn that. Which brings the story back to his complaint that he never gets the chance.
He has had opportunities from the bench but, that assist last week apart, he has not taken them. If Real Madrid have a player who has been hard done by in terms of team selection then it is Keylor Navas who has done nothing in the last three years to merit being replaced. He came in at the Camp Nou in midweek and was outstanding once again. Navas has kept quiet, trained harder than ever, and grabbed every opportunity.
Even if Isco has a point, his complaints are unlikely to change Solari’s mind. And there is no doubt that the coach has the backing of the board – he is too politically astute to be leaving Isco out without the thumbs-up of those who will decide at the end of the season if he stays or goes. Isco was banking on Solari leaving in the summer and that still may happen if Madrid win nothing. But the board – who will not be leaving – appear to have decided the future of the team will not revolve around Isco. So where does he go at the end of the season? Would there be a Premier League escape route for him?
Manuel Pellegrini would love him at West Ham. No one has got a better tune out of Isco than Pellegrini when he built his Malaga side around him and reached the unprecedented heights of hard-done-by Champions League quarter-finalists. But could Isco’s ego take the hit of going from Real Madrid to West Ham? It’s a common misconception that Pep Guardiola would love Isco at Manchester City.
Guardiola loves a baller but he also demands an intensity both mentally and physically, on the ball and off the ball, that would make them far less suited that might first appear. Manuel Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp make similar demands on their players although they might be slightly more open to working on Isco and changing him as a player.
He sometimes holds on to the ball for too long, or comes too deep to look for the ball when his team need him to be higher up the pitch. Perhaps Unai Emery could work on those weaknesses and mould him into a Premier League player. But it was Emery who sent him packing from Valencia when he was a kid coming through at Mestalla. Isco is at his best when the team is built around him as it was at Malaga under Pellegrini. Perhaps in the post-Eden Hazard world Chelsea would be somewhere where he could become the focal point.
Real Madrid would certainly be happy to do the two deals in parallel if it brings down the price of the Belgian for them. If there is no Premier League club calling – and there has not been yet – then maybe Serie A will be his route out of Madrid. Or he could just dig in and play out his contract until 2022. It would be a shame if he did that but got no more minutes than he is currently enjoying under Solari, making the occasional defence splitting pass as a substitute and pinging off the occasional tweet.
He remains one of football’s most naturally gifted players but his time at Madrid may have come to an end. If he can’t get a kick now, then what chance next season if either Eden Hazard or Neymar or even both, are also wearing white?
Manchester United to launch a £100 million bid for wonderkid
Manchester United are lining up a sensational summer swoop for Benfica wonderkid Joao Felix. The Portuguese midfielder has impressed Old Trafford scouts who have watched him on a number of occasions this season.The 19-year-old was also watched the weekend before last, and United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer received glowing reports.
And the Red Devils are now looking to launch a bid for Felix in the next transfer window as they continue to add youth to their ranks. It is understood Benfica would be willing to sell the youngster, but would want around £100m for his signature. An Old Trafford source said: “The club went to see Felix in action and it was all positive. He is seen as a real talent.“He is definitely someone who is increasingly of interest. He is a clever playmaker and in a similar vein to Portugal legend Deco. “The scouts saw him during the derby against Sporting Lisbon and he scored. There looks like there is going to be moves for him.”
Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have also shown an interest in Felix, who is also being watched by other European giants.Benfica want to hand him a huge new deal and boost his modest wages while inserting a mammoth release clause to fight-off suitors.
United made moves in the Portuguese transfer market last summer with the £20m capture of Porto right-back Diogo Dalot. The Red Devils also have a track record of bringing through young talent from that country, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.
Emery tells Arsenal fans why Europa League loss at BATE Borisov is not a shock
Arsenal’s European ambitions are hanging by a thread after a humiliating defeat in Belarus that ended with Alexandre Lacazette being shown a straight red card for elbowing a BATE Borisov player in the face with miuntes left in the game. Lacazette’s dismissal marked the lowest point of one of the worst nights of Unai Emery’s spell at Arsenal, with the head coach unable to change the game after his side fell behind to a first-half goal.
But Emery insisted later that he was not shocked by the defeat, saying that his team deserved more from the match and adding that he had full faith in his players to turn the tie around at the Emirates next week. But the Spaniard will have to mastermind a comeback without the suspended Lacazette, with the £50 million striker arguably being Arsenal’s most consistent attacker since the turn of the year. “I did not see the action but we need to control the frustration,” said Emery.
The Arsenal boss added: “We play another 90 minutes next week and I am sure it is going to be different. The first half was a good performance, we had chances to score. I am happy with the players’ effort. Defensively when they were 1-0 up they were organised and competitive. Our big opportunity is next week at home. I trust in our players and in our stadium with our supporters. We can win or lose but I trust in our work and preparations to make a different result.”
Emery again faced questions about the absence of Mesut Ozil, who was left at home in London despite returning to full training following a recent illness. Arsenal again lacked creativity in central areas, but Emery said the players that he selected had deserved to win the match. “Those that were here, we can win with them and we deserved that,” Emery said. “Last week we won and we played with the same players. We deserved to win but did not get the result. They were very organised. We can win with every player and lose with the same players.”
The night was made worse for Arsenal when Aleksei Baga, the BATE head coach, later said he was not surprised by how poor the visiting side had been. “It was not a surprise for us,” said Baga. “We were preparing hard tactically and there was no surprise at all to see such a game from Arsenal.”
Do you agree with Emery? What did the Arsenal coach get wrong against BATE?
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