Can Switching to a False 9 Save Isco's Career at Real Madrid?

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 18:  Francisco Roman Alarcon alias Isco of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring their second goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis Balompie at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on August 18, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The departure of Mesut Ozil to Arsenal on deadline day last summer was supposed to perfectly accommodate the arrival of Isco from Malaga, who joined Real Madrid for £26 million last June. 

A vastly talented playmaker, the 22-year-old seemed to be a natural fit to occupy the No. 10 role in the centre of Los Blancos' attack. 

Little more than 12 months later, however, Isco has seemingly become Real Madrid's equivalent of Cesc Fabregas when at Barcelona, a bit-part player ready to fill holes from midfield to up front depending on the needs of others. 

That's certainly not what he would have had in mind after winning admirers in the form of Carlo Ancelotti and Florentino Perez, but Real's extravagant dual capture of James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos means that Isco simply must adapt or depart. 

Interestingly, it's his manager who's thrown the midfielder a Madrid lifeline.

BERKELEY, CA - JULY 26:  Isco #23 of Real Madrid in action during their match against FC Internazionale in the International Champions Cup 2014 at California Memorial Stadium on July 26, 2014 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Speaking ahead of Los Blancos' clash with Roma in Dallas on Tuesday, Ancelotti, per Marca, outlined his plans to convert Isco into a mobile forward.

"We've got Karim [Benzema], who is very reliable, and we can use other players there. Isco can be a false nine," the Italian said of the developing Spaniard.

"It isn't important to have a centre-forward who scores a lot of goals, but it is to have a player who can play [Gareth] Bale or Cristiano [Ronaldo] in.

"We're not going to look for another forward because we don't need one."

For the upcoming season, at least, it's a plan which appears to be a shrewd one.

Understanding that his interplay with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale was the key to Karim Benzema's success in Real Madrid's devastating front three in 2013-14, Ancelotti has recognised that the addition of another big-name forward could prove disruptive in the upcoming season.

While both Radamel Falcao and Romelu Lukaku continue to be linked with moves to Madrid, both men are the type of strikers who relish being a focal point, the primary option, rather than a fluid component of an attacking brigade. 

Balance, not fire power (there's already enough of that), is pleasingly the manager's focus. 

Additionally, with the acquisition of Rodriguez and Kroos, Ancelotti knows he's ludicrously well-stocked with midfield talents. But the departure of Alvaro Morata to Juventus means little cover is available to Benzema. 

Isco, it seems, will now be the surprise option to provide that. 

VALENCIA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22: Isco of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Mestalla on December 22, 2013 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The lingering question now, however, is not whether the 22-year-old has the ability to succeed in the role. He most definitely has. 

Instead, can the switch to a false nine save Isco's long-term career at Real Madrid?

That, of course, is an entirely different proposition.

From a tactical sense, there's no reason why the Spaniard can't successfully transform into a converted forward in Ancelotti's current lineup.

Set to mimic the role Fabregas has played under Vicente del Bosque for Spain, Isco's affinity for tight spaces combined with his superb vision and passing make him a natural fit for the manager's new plan.

While he's unlikely to ever truly occupy a pair of central defenders, the adept playmaker is perfectly capable of becoming a mobile fulcrum at the heart of Real's attack. And unlike Fabregas as a false nine for La Roja, Isco will have devastating forwards in Ronaldo and Bale running by him, rather than slight-bodied midfielders such as Andres Iniesta and David Silva. 

Alberto Saiz/Associated Press

Yet, despite Ancelotti's eagerness to accommodate Isco into his attacking systems for 2014-15, it's difficult to see how such a transition can preserve the 22-year-old's stay in the Spanish capital for an extended period. 

Given that Benzema is still the manager's first-choice option, playing time as a false nine will still prove rather limited should the Frenchman maintain his fitness. 

Ancelotti will also have Jese available as another versatile forward option upon his return from injury. After a spectacular string of performances in January and February, Los Blancos' boss will certainly be anticipating the 21-year-old's return to health. 

False nine or midfielder, minutes will be scarce for the former Malaga star.

Perhaps more significant is that Isco's impending new role can't be seen as a temporary solution designed to bide time until more senior Madrid figures depart.

At just 23, the £63 million Rodriguez isn't going anywhere soon. Kroos, at just 24, isn't either. Luka Modric, at 28, still has plenty of high-quality production to give, too. 

So while an adjusted role to that of a false nine may keep Isco involved at the Bernabeu in 2014-15, the transition doesn't seem likely to benefit his Real Madrid career from a long-term perspective.


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