Isco’s redemption arc gets off to the best possible start at Real Betis
Having not played competitive football for the last six months it came as a surprise to many fans that Isco has reinvented himself at the start of 2023/24.
His performances were so good in the season openers against Villarreal and Atletico Madrid that he won the player of the match awards in both games. Although his form in recent seasons has been poor there is no doubt that there is a world class player in Isco as seen with his past exploits with Real Madrid and the Spanish national side.
What went wrong?
The attacking midfielder last saw consistent game time in the 2018/19 season at Real Madrid but since then has struggled to assert himself in the sides he has represented. In his last few seasons in the Spanish capital he was riddled with injury as well as not fitting into the tactics deployed by whoever was at the helm.
This is because in Madrid there was the famed midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro which worked perfectly in tandem as seen by their five Champions League titles together. This meant he was only used sparingly as a substitute or in games of less importance so the trio could be rested.
It was however not just a case of being far down the pecking order though. Isco simply did not fit the tactical requirements of the team as an attacking midfielder. In the modern age of high octane pressing football, Madrid just could not afford to play Isco as he did not work hard enough defensively and there were other areas on the pitch that could offer creativity.
Isco decided to run down his contract and leave for Sevilla ahead of the 2022/23 season in what seemed to be the perfect transfer. However it could not have gone any worse for the team, manager or Isco himself.
He struggled to settle into the starting XI of Jorge Sampaoli’s squad and his lethargic style of play did not fit in with the Argentinian’s full throttle style of play. This meant the 31-year-old almost looked out of his depth at times and a couple of phases behind play.
It would be harsh however to blame just Isco as the team did not work in tandem which led to the Los Rojiblancos sitting just above the relegation zone come December, with Sampaoli sacked as a result.
With new head coach Jose Luis Medillibar making it clear that Isco was not part of his plans, the club and the player decided to mutually terminate his contract after just 12 league appearances. With very few offers coming in, excluding a failed move to Union Berlin, Isco decided to train hard for six months and return at the start of the next season.
Why Isco is doing so well for Real Betis
To start with Manuel Pellegrini was the perfect coach for Isco as they worked together at Malaga in the early 2010s when the club was playing in European competition. This meant Isco knew what the coach wanted from him and Pellegrini knew the type of player Isco was.
Isco also fitted into Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1 perfectly as the attacking midfielder, with Sergio Canales leaving for Liga MX and Nabil Fekir still injured. This meant there was a creative void in the side that needed filling and who better to fill it than Isco.
Isco was straight into it on his debut in the league opener vs Villarreal where he sent a lovely cushioned through ball down the left hand side before Luiz Henrique cut back and set up Ayoze Perez for the first goal.
He continued to find acres of space throughout the game and conduct the attacking phase for Real Betis with expertly weighted through balls and intricate passes. A debut to remember for the 38 capped international.
In the second game of the season against Atletico Madrid, Isco showed that he can also drop deep to create passing options and then progress the ball up the pitch through his mesmerising dribbling ability. Isco also showed a willingness to defend and help out his defence against tough opposition which suggests he is eager to impress his new fanbase.
Fans of Real Betis will be excited to have a player of Isco’s quality in midfield while Pellegrini will be ecstatic with this piece of business he has conducted. In an age of over inflated fees, this transfer must feel all the better considering it was for free.
If Isco can stay fit throughout the season then the goals and assists could start flowing as could the points for Betis who will be aiming to break into the top four of La Liga.
Meanwhile for Isco he should just continue to get his head down and work hard for the team which will lead to his confidence continuing to regrow as the season progresses.