European Under-21 Championships – One to Watch: Isco, Spain

Isco

Age: 21

Club: Malaga

Country: Spain

Francisco Roman Alarcon Suarez or, as he is more commonly known, Isco, is tipped to be one of the bright lights for the future of Spain national team.

The 21 year-old attacking midfielder will be using the European Under-21 Championships as his chance to show that he can perform on the international stage even if it is at the younger level.

With Spain the holders of the title they will be strong favourites coming into this year’s competition and players such as Isco hold the key to the success or failure of their campaign this year. Isco has played with the national team at every level, making his full senior debut in February this year as he came on as a second-half substitute in Spain’s 3-1 win over Uruguay in Doha.

All eyes will be on the attacking midfielder at this year’s under-21 tournament but he is no stranger to being centre of attention. He scooped La Liga’s Breakthrough Player of the Year award 2012 and, in the same year, also won the Golden Boy award, an honour voted for by sports journalists to crown the best young player in Europe. Previous winners include Rafael van der Vaart, Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi, putting Isco in exalted company.

The youngster scored seven times in 12 appearances during his time in the Spanish under-19 squad before making the transition to the under 21s, where he has found success again, bagging six in 11 appearances.

Isco signed for current club Malaga in July 2011 after his 15 goals from the midfield meant Valencia B made their return to the third tier of Spanish football after a couple of yo-yo seasons.

In his first season for Los Boquerones he scored five in 32 appearances, helping them to the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

Isco went on to impress on the European stage with three goals and four assists from his eight appearances, in a campaign which saw his team eventually bow out in the quarter-final stage to tournament runners-up Borussia Dortmund.

That Champions League campaign led the Malaga board to tie down Isco to a new contract, which he signed in January 2013. This deal now means that if anyone wants to take him away from the club they will have to trigger his buyout clause by paying out just under £30m.

However, if the Malaga man can live up to his expectations at the Euro’s, speculation about his future will be rife. He has been continually linked with a move to the Premier League this summer.

A switch to Manchester City seems to be the preferred destination as this would mean he will link up with ex-manager Manuel Pellegrini. Chelsea are also rumoured to be interested in his services.

While Isco is hot property at the moment he has weak areas in his game – for example, his small size means that he struggles in aerial confrontations, not so important in the silky surroundings of La Liga but a potential fault in his game on the international scene.

Nevertheless, his ability to pick a pass is superb for his age: his pass succession rate for all his games last year in La Liga and the Champions League was over 85%. But arguably the only aspect of his game more impressive than his passing is his dribbling.

He often runs at defenders and forces them to retreat on to the back foot before striking shots from the edge of the box. However, he may have to work on his shooting if he is to do his performances justice in the future, as his 12 goals in all competitions last year came as a result of him trying nearly three shots a game.

With Isco’s vision and ability to pick a pass the Spanish team are looking a well-rounded outfit, ready to defend their under-21 crown in Israel. And if the little midfielder can play like many expect him to, he could well be the player of the tournament.

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