Barcelona’s Undercover Genius


On July 1st 2012, Sergio Busquets completed a rather remarkable feat. At just 23 years old, he added a European Championships medal to his phenomenal collection, which also consists one World Cup, three La Liga titles and two Copa del Reys, Champions Leagues, UEFA Super Cups and Club World Cups. He has won everything he could possibly have won – in most cases, twice. And he has had a major role in every one of his triumphs. The results of five seasons of professional football.


The very definition of homegrown, he was fast-tracked into Barcelona’s first team in 2008. Born in the city, son of former Barça goalkeeper Carles Busquets, he joined the club’s youth setup in 2005, and since his progress has been as great a reflection of his supreme talent as his trophy collection. His understated but extremely important performances pushed him further up the pecking order as the season went on.


“He’s the best defensive central midfielder in the world. Barcelona have a priceless player.” – Pep Guardiola.


In-part due to their shortage of defenders, which saw Yaya Touré play at centre back, he started in their 2-0 win over Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final, the night on which Barcelona completed their famous and unprecedented treble. This came just one year since achieving promotion to the Spanish Third Division with Barcelona B. In none of his 41 appearances in the 2008/09 did he look phased or out of his depth: a trend that has remained.


Touré had been their primary defensive midfielder until this point, but there was no stopping Busquets from here. He continued improving, his understanding with the magnificent pair of Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta growing. He had shrugged off the challenges of Touré and Seydou Keita for the first choice spot. After the unhappy former’s sale to Manchester City in the summer of 2010, Javier Mascherano arrived as his new backup, or challenger.


“Xavi and Iniesta are the most creative midfielders in the world, but, above all, there is Busquets. He has the talent to play for any team anywhere in the world, but he’s made to play for this team. Literally, he’s the perfect guy. He robs the ball, he has superb technical skills and brings tactical order. I watch him and try to learn from him.” – Javier Mascherano


The Argentine struggled greatly with the off-the-ball movement and speed of thought the job required. Although he was renowned as a fine holding midfielder before his move, he has since been converted into a centre back. The difficulty Barcelona have found in trying to find a well-fitting backup option for Busquets highlights the specialist nature of his job, and with it just how important he is to the team.


Busquets has averaged 82.1 passes per game since the start of the 2010/11 season, with an average success rate of 91.9%. To see him make a misstep is noteworthy. For this season he has managed an impressive average of three tackles per game (0.5 more than his closest follower, Dani Alves) and 1.8 interceptions. In the ‘pivote’ role he is not only the link between the defence and the midfield, but the midfield and attack, too.


“If I could be any player in the world, I would like to be Busquets. He does everything; he always helps the team, he is generous, and he is the first to get the team moving. When he plays, the football is more fluid. With Busquets in the team, our football is better.” – Vicente del Bosqué


Some lazily and misguidedly choose to use his more nefarious antics as sticks with which to beat him. His penchant for diving was always overstated and even then it has grown less and less prominent in his game over time. The world as a whole collectively gave him the ‘diver’ label for getting Thiago Motta sent off in the 2010 Champions League semi final second leg; reputations can be made and broken in a second. But if someone looks at Busquets and sees nothing but a ‘cheat’, they are simply not looking hard enough.


The word ‘genius’ is very much overused in modern football coverage. Barcelona are blessed to have five of them: Xavi, Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Cesc Fàbregas and Busquets himself. He is the only player capable of playing the most important position in perhaps the best club side of all time. His positioning is perennially perfect: always in the perfect position to receive the ball, and often protecting the open wings, left exposed by Dani Alves’ and Jordi Alba’s forays forward. His technique and passing are sublime. To watch Busquets is to watch brilliance incarnate.


“He is a gift for any coach. The speed of his passing is perfect and he is the kind of player you don’t need to explain anything to. You just put him in his position and he performs… Positionally, he seems like a veteran with or without the ball. With the ball he makes what is difficult look easy: he disposes of the ball with one or two touches. Without the ball, he gives us a lesson: that of being in the right place to intercept and running just to recover the ball.” – Johan Cruijff.

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