Like a marathon runner overcoming mental and physical fatigue to complete the course, or the career of Bruce Forsyth, there’s nothing quite as life-affirming as a second wind.
While breaking into the upper echelons of your profession might feel like the hard bit – and, for many, it is – remaining there as the years batter your spirit is the real quiz.
And returning to your best form long after being written off by all and sundry is even sweeter still, the metaphorical cherry on top of a Mr Kipling special.
You’re unlikely to find one of Kipling’s exceedingly good cakes in deepest Seville, but the renaissance of Isco this season is arguably even more delicious.
“I had never seen Isco play as well as he is now – he’s giving his best version,” said long-serving teammate and Mexico midfielder Andres Guardado the day before Betis faced Aris Limassol in the Europa League.
“He enters my top band of best-quality players with whom I have played, without a doubt.”
One of Spain’s top talents in the mid-2010s, Isco scored 53 goals in 353 games for Real Madrid and was part of five Champions League-winning squads.
Yet his time at the Bernabeu was overshadowed by frustration. Both with injuries that stalled his career at inopportune moments and the loss of confidence that turned a technicolour playmaker into a grey husk.
Leaving the Spanish capital in 2022 was the right decision, but his move to Sevilla lasted just 12 matches before an exit that was both ignominious and low-key.
It just happened that Isco’s mojo lay two miles across the city. Since joining Betis in July, the 31-year-old has dazzled the crowds with his devilish footwork, the vision of the Hubble Telescope and an endearing preference for the unpredictable.
All of which was in abundance during Betis’ match against Las Palmas, a forgettable 1-0 victory enlivened by a top-knotted genius wearing green and white stripes.
As Isco found himself surrounded by three defenders, each invading his personal space like rats in a student house, he chose to wriggle free by executing a textbook Cruyff turn.
Poor Sandro Ramirez, who’d lunged into the tackle in the carefree manner of a Sevillano choosing their lunchtime bocadillo, only to leave the tussle with an entire battery farm’s worth of eggs all over his face.
🇪🇸🟢 Isco having fun… 🪄 pic.twitter.com/UTvUoycRr7
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) November 26, 2023
“I went through some difficult moments,” Isco said upon reflecting on life before Betis in a recent interview with DAZN.
“In the end, I decided to stop for a while because I needed to. I needed to recycle myself mentally. I have had help with family support and psychological support.
“In the end, mental health is very important. And we have to give it more awareness. Now, I feel good.”
The playmaker’s time at Madrid went the way of many promising talents in years gone by, mixing moments of jaw-dropping inspiration with long spells of inconsistent form and injuries that almost left him forgotten amongst the Bernabeu’s numerous accumulated jewels.
“I’ve had some difficult times in recent years, but I’ve never given up,” Isco said previously. “Real Madrid have been the most important team in my career and I’ll always respect the club. Maybe I should have left longer ago, but I’ve learned from the experience.
“Now I’ve worked physically and mentally to come back stronger. I feel good on the pitch.”
During Isco’s milk and honey years at Madrid, when he looked destined to become one of the defining talents of his generation, the phrase “No Isco? No Disco!” resounded across Spain whenever he turned on the style.
Now, after an unsettling period without a dance partner, the midfielder is bewitching defenders with a swish of the hips and all the flamboyance associated with flamenco. It’s becoming a second wind for the ages.
By Michael Lee