Just over three months ago, in the second leg of a Champions League Round of 16 clash, Malaga’s Isco took possession of the ball with his back turned toward goal about 30 yards out. He shifted the ball to his right foot as he moved between a pair of Porto midfielders, ran directly at the defense, and from the edge of the 18-yard box unleashed an unstoppable drive that found the back of the net inside the far, top corner.
Right where the owl sleeps, as they say.
The goal altered the course of the tie between the Iberian rivals—Porto having won the first leg through a Joao Moutinho strike and Malaga eventually progressing through Roque Santa Cruz's winner with 13 minutes remaining.
But it was Isco’s golazo that put the diminutive Spanish side on course for the quarterfinals. As then-Malaga manager Manuel Pellegrini said in his post-match press conference, “Isco’s goal brought a sense of calm and from then on we started to play well with the ball.”
And no one played better with it than Isco.
The 21-year-old attacker enjoyed enough of a breakout season at La Rosaleda that Real Madrid came calling, reportedly agreeing to a €30 million fee for his signature that will become official upon the conclusion of a Thursday medical in the Spanish capital.
That night against Porto, Isco touched the ball 72 times, completed 87 percent of his passes and fired five shots at goal. In other words, he was an action man—the decisive, inspirational factor in an unlikely victory over a team that had yet to lose a domestic fixture and would go on to win the Portuguese title.
It’s also worth pointing out that his run leading up to the goal was made from the centre of the park, and that he took his shot from the right-hand edge of the box.
According to the team-sheet, Isco, as he had done all season, lined up to start the match on the left side of a play-making trio that also included Julio Baptista and Joaquin and supported centre-forward Javier Saviola. He didn't consider himself fixed to a position, and his sense of creative freedom would end up paying off with one of the most important goals of Malaga’s season.
Based on what we saw from him last term, in which he scored nine goals in La Liga, Isco has announced himself as just the latest in a growing collection of young, all-around attackers that already includes the likes of Eden Hazard, Mario Gotze and Neymar. These players are hybrid forwards, and their ability to play on either flank, in the inside-wide positions or through the middle has made them difficult to defend and sought after by Europe’s biggest clubs.
Just look at the prices they have been commanding during recent registration periods.
Hazard, who joined Chelsea from Lille last summer, went for €40 million. Gotze swapped Borussia Dortmund for Bayern Munich at a €37 million fee. Just a few weeks ago Neymar became the ninth-most expensive player in world football history when Barcelona paid €57 million to bring him to Camp Nou from Santos.
What makes them so valuable is that, for the buying club, they essentially represent three acquisitions as they can do pretty much everything from an attacking perspective. They will score goals, yes, but they will also get lots of touches, make several plays per match, and turn their forward-moving teammates into weapons.
And they will do it from anywhere.
Hazard, for example, scored nine Premier League goals in 2013-14, added 11 assists, completed 85.2 per cent of his passes and drew 2.3 fouls per match. Gotze compiled almost identical numbers (10, 7, 83.7 and 2.2) and Neymar—the most goalscoring-oriented of the three—bagged 43 goals in 47 matches in all competitions in 2012.
If they were basketball players these attackers would be 20-10 men (20 points, 10 rebounds per game)—the sort of athletes that dominate in multiple sectors and end up having their fingerprints on almost everything their side accomplishes over the course of a match.
Isco looks to be in the same class, and to that end it’s not at all difficult to see why Real Madrid made signing him a priority this summer.
All statistics courtesy WhoScored.com.