How Isco seized the limelight after Santi Cazorla's departure to become Europe's most wanted

PROFILE
By Ben Hayward

It was a happy homecoming. When Isco returned to local club Malaga in the summer of 2011 for €6 million (£4.8m), the young attacking midfielder could hardly believe his luck. And just over a year on, Malaga fans can hardly believe theirs, either.

Isco had featured sparingly at Valencia, scoring twice in a Copa del Rey tie against lowly Logrones but appearing only four times in La Liga in 2010-11. Nothing to write home about. Unusually at the Mestalla outfit, the player was finding opportunities in the first team hard to come by and, even at 19, was frustrated at his lack of game time.

So when Malaga came in and offered to take the youngster back to his Andalusian roots, Isco jumped at the chance. His father (also his representative) was also happy with the move, believing Isco – a shortened form of Francisco (Roman Alarcon Suarez, to give him his full name) – would thrive in his local surroundings.

Having departed his home town, the beach resort of Benalmadena, in 2006, Isco was thrilled to be back among his friends and family once again. And he has never looked back since. If midfielder Santi Cazorla was the talisman last term as Malaga qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history, Isco was the local hero.

He hit five goals in 35 league appearances in his first full season but, since the departure of Cazorla to Arsenal in the summer, has stepped out of the shadows of the former Villarreal man – and into the limelight.

Isco was one of the brighter lights in a disappointing Spain side at the London Olympics, meaning he has now represented his country over 50 times at all leves from Under-16 to U-23 level. So he is hardly a secret any more.

There was significant interest in the youngster over the summer but Malaga, despite several sales and well-documented financial problems, were determined to hang on to their young star, reportedly rebuffing offers from Anzhi, Tottenham and even Barcelona.

Three goals in nine appearances already this term, including two superb strikes in a wonderful win in the club’s Champions League debut against Zenit, have alerted Europe’s elite and it seems only a matter of time before Isco does move on.

However, the player’s father is keen for his prodigy to keep his feet firmly on the ground for now, believing Malaga remains the best place for the player to continue his development. At 20 years old, he has already drawn comparisons with legends like Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero – due to his silky skills, dribbling and ability to score outrageous goals – and his step up to Spain’s senior side surely is not far away.

“We are watching Isco and we hold him in high esteem,” Vicente del Bosque commented several months back. “But he has a lot of competitors in his position.”

At this rate, however, we won’t have to wait long before his full debut with La Roja.

Whether he will still be a Malaga player, however, is another matter. His current release clause is set at an affordable €21 million (£16.9m) and rises by a million each year until his contract ends in 2016. Quite a few clubs in Europe are in a position to pay such a sum, with both Barca and Real Madrid likely to be among them – as well as several sides from the Premier League.

Indeed, Goal.com has learned that Manchester City have made a move for Isco a priority, ahead of other targets Radamel Falcao and Steven Jovetic, and are keen to swoop for the young star in January

But they may have to wait. After the win against Zenit, Isco tweeted: “Incredible, I could not be more proud of the team. We have to keep working harder than ever to carry on enjoying something so magnificent.”

And Malaga fans will hope their club can work behind the scenes to ensure that they, too, continue to enjoy the magnificence of Isco for some time to come.

Either way, time is on his side. Not 21 until April, Isco is already lighting up La Liga and looks every bit like Spain’s newest sensation. Malaga, meanwhile, acted quickly and impressively to sign him last year, and are currently very lucky to have him. At least for now.

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Sampdoria ponder Matri swoop

EXCLUSIVE
By Elia Raimondo

Alessandro Matri may be on his way out of Juventus in the not too distant future, with Sampdoria showing an interest in signing the striker, Goal.com can reveal.

The Genoa side are eager to add some more firepower to their squad, and head coach Ciro Ferrara sees the 28-year-old Matri as a valuable addition to his attack.

Matri joined Juventus from Cagliari in January 2011, and quickly became an important first team member at the Turin powerhouse.

However, he has since lost his spot in the starting XI under Antonio Conte, and Juventus are ready to cash in on the attacker if a good offer comes in.

Matri has a contract with the Serie A champions until the summer of 2017, but a bid in the region of €12 million could be enough to lure him away from the Bianconeri.

Meanwhile, Sampdoria could try and sweeten the deal by including either Spanish midfielder Pedro Obiang or defender Jonathan Rossini in the deal, who have both caught the attention of Juve with their fine performances this term.

Matri has previously been linked with clubs such as Dynamo Kiev and Zenit St Petersburg, but he’s reluctant to leave Italy for a foreign adventure.

Lloris: I did not sign for Tottenham to be on the bench

Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has insisted he is happy with his situation at the club, after seemingly dislodging Brad Friedel as the club’s No.1.

The Frenchman signed for Spurs on transfer deadline day but was initially benched by manager Andre Villas-Boas with the American in fine form.

However, having started in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa, the former Lyon keeper has reiterated that he has no problems with his start to life in north London.

“We have to put things into perspective. I just spent a month with Spurs, I arrived during the season with a team in place and I have only missed three games,” Lloris told reporters.

“Against Manchester United, I wanted to be on the pitch. Things are clear, I have not signed for Tottenham for this role.

“I think it will happen naturally. I am in the service of the team, I respect everyone, I came to play but I have no guarantee. The coach will make his choice.”

Lloris’ starting role against Villa brought to an end Friedel’s run of 310 consecutive Premier League games, but the 25-year-old believes competition should be expected at a club like Spurs.

“I talked with the coach, there was no ambiguity. He told me that everyone wanted I come to Tottenham and England,” he added.

“Only the manager has some control over these things. But I can not control what is written. Compared to what is said and what I hear, everything is going very well.

“There are four high quality goalkeepers here, and choices are made by the coach, I have just been recruited as part of a future project, but the project of the future starts now.

“Competition exists everywhere, but relations with Brad Friedel, with goalkeeping coach [Tony Parks] and manager are good.

“After that, it is not me who manages the communication. I’m back, I’m training and I am happy to play.”

Leonardo: Ibrahimovic not returning to AC Milan

Paris Saint-Germain director Leonardo has insisted that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be leaving the Ligue 1 giants for AC Milan any time soon.

The Sweden international revealed earlier this week that he still has warm feelings for the Rossoneri, adding that he would be open to a return to the San Siro side at some point.

Nevertheless, PSG have made it clear that Ibrahimovic is not going anywhere for now.

“He was only voicing his respect for Milan and for a city that he loves,” Leonardo stated to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Ibrahimovic is not going anywhere until he has won everything there’s to win at PSG.”

Meanwhile, the striker’s agent Mino Raiola has confirmed that Ibrahimovic has no intention to return to Milan just yet.

“It would be a waste of time for the Milan fans to start dreaming. They would be better off focusing on the future.

“Milan are the only one of his former clubs where he would like to return, but to talk about it actually happening is excessive.”

The 31-year-old has a contract with PSG until June 2015.