Crucial for Spain, Isco unwanted at Solari's Real Madrid
Isco's superb vision, dribbling, and passing skills have earned him a place as the natural successor to Andres Iniesta in the long line of brilliant midfielders for Spain.
But Isco has fallen out of favor with new Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari, who has yet to start Isco in any of the six matches he has coached since taking over a month ago.
While Isco has had his difficulties in consistently starting for Madrid in the past, none of Solari's predecessors considered him disposable.
Solari seemed to send a message this week that Isco needed to do a lot more to earn his trust when the Argentine manager dropped him from his 18-man squad for the Champions League match at Roma. Isco arrived to the Italian capital's Stadio Olimpico dressed in a suit, but before he could change into his playing kit he discovered he would be watching the match from the stands.
After the 2-0 victory, Solari fended off repeated questions from the media about why Isco couldn't even find a spot on a seven-man bench that included several inexperienced players and one youth from Madrid's reserve team.
"I don't give any importance to it," Solari said. "Whether a player starts or is a backup is not a real problem. That is how I saw it even when I was a player. (Players) are here to give it 100 percent to see if they are picked."
Isco has played only 78 minutes in three appearances under Solari, all as a second-half substitute.
Isco had been one of the favorite players of Solari's predecessor, Julen Lopetegui. Isco enjoyed a central role on Spain's squad during the two years Lopetegui was in charge before his short-lived stint at Madrid this season. At Madrid, Lopetegui wanted to feature Isco's passing skills in an attempt to construct a more choral attack following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The result, however, was Madrid's longest ever scoring drought that lasted for more than four matches. Lopetegui was fired after losing at Barcelona 5-1, in which Isco played all 90 minutes.
Madrid's best playmaker when spaces become tight in the opposing area, it appears Isco's problem is his attitude.
Isco has never been shy about publicly saying he would like to be included in the select bunch which includes Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Marcelo, and Karim Benzema who always start for Madrid when fit.
But Isco has never won the complete confidence of any of Madrid's managers— other than Lopetegui — despite helping it win four Champions League titles since he transferred from Malaga in 2013.
As far back as 2016, Isco admitted he must not be doing something right.
"If I am not a starter for (Carlos) Ancelotti, if I am not a starter for (Rafa) Benitez, and if I am not one for (Zinedine) Zidane . I am the one who is responsible," Isco told Spanish sports daily MARCA.
While in previous campaigns Isco faced competition from former teammates James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata, Madrid's current squad is much weaker. Ronaldo's departure should have allowed Isco to finally claim a permanent spot in the starting 11, regardless of the coach.
Prolonged banishment by Solari will increase speculation about Isco looking for an exit in the January transfer window. Media rumors point to Manchester City and Juventus as possible suitors for Isco, who is under contract until 2022 and, at age 26, should be coming to his peak years.
Fortunately for Isco, Luis Enrique has at least made him the centerpiece of Spain's attack since taking over following the World Cup.
In the Spanish league, Madrid hosts Valencia on Saturday. Madrid is in sixth place, six points behind leader Sevilla.
Isco will be hoping to be dressed in all white, and not tucked into a winter coat.