MADRID - When Real Madrid paid around 30 million euros ($41 million) to buy Isco from Malaga in the close season it seemed the talented playmaker was poised to become a fixture for club and country.
He had just helped Spain to victory in the European Under- 21 championship in Israel, scoring a penalty in a 4-2 final win over Italy, and had already made his full senior debut in a friendly against Uruguay.
Initially, all appeared to be going according to plan as the 'Golden Boy' trophy winner for the best young player in Europe in 2012 hit the ground running with a series of impressive performances and some delightful goals.
However, the arrival of world record signing Gareth Bale at the end of the transfer window prompted Real coach Carlo Ancelotti to change his formation and Isco increasingly found himself watching from the bench.
Ancelotti appears to have settled on a 4-3-3 system for his first-choice team with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Bale up front and Angel Di Maria, Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric across the middle.
It has been working effectively in recent weeks and Real are through to the last 16 of the Champions League, level on points at the top of La Liga with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and poised to claim a berth in the final of the King's Cup.
If Bale had not picked up a series of minor injuries Isco would probably have seen even less playing time but his lack of a prominent role could put his World Cup place in Brazil in June in jeopardy.
Ancelotti was asked at a news conference on Monday whether he felt he was being unfair to Isco.
“It's a difficult question to answer because I don't believe I am here to work for a player but to do the best possible job for Real Madrid,” the Italian said.
“Sometimes it can happen that I am not so fair to some players and it's normal that he is not happy right now. I don't like players who are happy if they are not playing.
“He should have the desire to play and I hope that at the end of the season he and everyone else can say they have been important to the team,” said Ancelotti.
“He did it very well at the start and I have no doubt about his talent.”
With Real holding a 3-0 advantage over Atletico ahead of their King's Cup semi-final second leg on Tuesday, Ancelotti may rest one or two of his regulars and give Isco a chance to impress.
However, if he does not start playing a more significant role soon and with a host of gifted midfielders to choose from, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque could be forced to give his ticket for the trip to Brazil to someone else.