Real Madrid and Malaga have reportedly begun talks over the transfer of attacking midfielder Isco to the Spanish capital. If the deal goes through and Isco takes a significant step forward in his budding career, his talent and potential could mean he becomes the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo's throne of superstardom in Madrid.
According to Spanish newspaper Diario AS, Real are holding discussion about Isco with Malaga sporting director Mario Husillos and general manager Vicente Casado, as well as the player's lawyer and father.
“Madrid are very interested in him. But so far there is nothing official,” said Malaga director Francisco Martin Aguilar.
"It fills us with pride that a lad that has come through at Málaga to become the player he has," Aguilar told Marca.com. "If he goes it will be to a big club and it will be to the benefit of the coffers at the club."
Isco's contract has a release clause of €35 million, according to the Marca.com report. Diario AS wrote that Real Madrid want to include players in the deal to lower the price.
That suggests a transfer is not only possible but perhaps even likely. So what do we make of Isco and his chances of becoming a superstar at Real Madrid?
Isco, 21, plays both centrally and on the left side of the attacking midfield for Malaga. This season, he has scored eight goals in 35 La Liga appearances, according to WhoScored, with three more in Malaga's run to the Champions League quarterfinals.
A member of Spain's 2009 U-17 World Cup and 2011 U-20 World Cup teams, Isco earned praise following both competitions for his dribbling skills, overall technique, field vision and passing and shooting ability (h/t B/R's Allan Jiang).
He has shown all those skills in abundance with Malaga.
(GIF via squ-e.tumblr.com)
(GIF via Sillyseason.com)
Isco joined Malaga from Valencia in 2011 in a deal Yahoo! Sports estimated at €6 million. Since then, he has earned the title of "Spain's next big thing" for his consistently strong performances—first under the guidance of future Arsenal standout Santi Cazorla and then as Malaga's playmaker.
In his scouting report, Jiang writes:
Isco has repeatedly shown exceptional positional awareness, especially against struggling defenders like Pepe, who was outwitted by the Spaniard's smartness.
When the Málaga midfielder is on song, he takes over games as evidenced with braces vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg and Levante.
It's not just the goals, he can conjure up moments of sheer brilliance, and he was No. 1 in dribbles per game (4.8) during the group stages of the UEFA Champions League.
He has the passing range and the aptitude to seamlessly switch to a midfield conductor, which is what Andrés Iniesta does for Barcelona.
Jiang also notes that Isco's shot-to-goal ratio is significantly lower than Valladolid's Oscar, which indicates Isco has not been clinical with his finishing this season. At 21, though, he has time to develop and mature into a more clinical finisher.
For now, as B/R's Nick Akerman notes, Isco's "dribbling skills, ability to retain possession and creative passing" were enough to earn him a debut with Spain's loaded national team in February.
How Much Potential?
Isco already has silky skills, excellent close control and a superb touch. He needs to improve on his finishing, but he has the ingredients necessary to become a star in the intense spotlight of Real Madrid.
But can he reach the level of a player like Cristiano Ronaldo?
Ronaldo has an absurdly strong talent set, from his finishing—both with feet and head—to dribbling, technique, vision and awareness. He is a complete player that defenses find unplayable when he is at his best.
Isco has much work to do if he wants to reach that level, but he clearly possesses plenty of talent. With dedication and the right coaching, Isco could become a player of that class. As we saw in this season's Champions League, Isco is already a major talent capable of impressing at the top level.
And in a team as famous as Real Madrid, he could become an international superstar—especially after Ronaldo leaves, whether that is this summer or in a few years.
Learning from the best—in this case Ronaldo—can only help Isco's development. Given the right circumstances, it could even help Isco blossom into that category.