“I’ve only just started out in football and I’ve still got a lot of dreams to fulfil,” said Isco in an interview he gave to FIFA.com when he was a mere 17-year-old. That conversation came in the wake of Spain’s semi-final defeat to the host nation at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, a painful blow that the talented Malaga-born midfielder softened three days later by scoring the only goal of the match for third place against Colombia.
In the three and a half years since then, Isco has made many of his teenage dreams come true, and all in record time. One year after his first taste of a world finals, the youngster made his first division debut with Valencia, the club he signed for at the age of 14 and who gave him his first opportunity, aware of his tremendous potential.
The hugely promising teenager played for local team Atletico Benamiel prior to joining Los Chés, although it was in the street where he really fell in love with the game: “When I was a boy the neighbours all knew who I was because I’d take a ball with me everywhere I went. That’s where I grew up, in the street, and that was pretty much where I learnt the game.”
Then in the summer of 2011 the prodigy returned home to sign for Malaga, the club he supported as a boy and where Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini had little hesitation in making him his playmaker, despite the fact he was still only 19. The youngster rose to the challenge, going on to become one of the brightest prospects in the European game.
So speedy has been Isco’s progress that national team coach Vicente del Bosque has already drafted him into his squad on several occasions, handing him his international debut in the recent friendly with Uruguay. What is more, the Malaga man came on for Andres Iniesta, no less, in the second half.
Many have interpreted that change as a sign for the future. The Barça midfielder shares the same position as his Malaga counterpart as well as similar technical gifts, vision and an ability to glide effortlessly past opponents, with the ball invariably glued to their feet at the same time.
The two also share the same mutual admiration for each other. While Isco names the elegant No6 as a role model, Iniesta acknowledged in a recent interview that he is keeping a very close eye on the youngster’s development.
The history men
The midfielder proved the revelation of La Liga in his maiden season with the Andalusian club, so much so that at the end of 2012 he was presented with the Golden Boy award, a trophy handed out by Italian sports daily Tuttosport to the best young player in Europe and which has previously been won by Lionel Messi, Francesc Fabregas and Wayne Rooney.
Isco has chosen not to rest on his laurels, however, continuing to produce the kind of performances that have prompted team-mate Joaquin to affirm that the young star will define an era in Spanish football.
With three goals and three assists in seven appearances in the competition to date, Isco is a major reason why Malaga have embarked on a ground-breaking run in their very first UEFA Champions League campaign. The most important of those three goals was the one that levelled their Round of 16 tie against Porto, one described by his team-mate Roque Santa Cruz, who scored the winner in that second leg, as “a fantastic strike”.
Both player and club are determined to push on even further in the continent’s premier club competition: “This is a dream for everyone. Nobody here has ever experienced anything like this before,” said the rising star of Spanish football, pointing to the achievement of a side more accustomed to relegation battles than mixing it with the European elite.
That dream is still very much alive after Malaga’s 0-0 draw at home to Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their quarter-final, a result that leaves the tie in the balance ahead of Tuesday’s return leg in Germany.
Closely watched by Lukasz Piszczek in last week’s game, Isco was prevented from playing his usual influential game. And all the indications are that Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp will once again detail one of his players to track the Spaniard, who is rightly seen by the Germans as a very real threat. “He’s got a huge amount of natural talent and he’s very powerful,” said Dortmund forward Marco Reus.
Though there is sure to be a pressure-cooker atmosphere at the Westfalenstadion, with the fans on the south stand once again putting up their famous “Yellow Wall” for the occasion, the Malaga star is unlikely to be fazed by it all.
“It’s great to have atmosphere at the stadium, but football is all about the players. They’re not going to scare me,” said the man of the moment, whose only concern is to continue making his dreams a reality, starting with a place in the last four of the Champions League.