The Unheralded Magnificence of Sergio Busquets

“Watch the game you won’t see Busquets, but watch Busquets and you’ll see the game.”


These types of frothy quotes attributed to Sergio Busquets are found in abundance. But with this one, there is something quite pertinent about what former Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “Watch the game you won’t see Busquets.”


Photo: MARCA


Well yes, the focus is normally of the high-octane beauty upfront, the razzmatazz, the assists, rainbow flicks, nutmegs, and free-kicks: this is especially true when you have the likes of Neymar or Lionel Messi on the frontline, conjuring up goals only previously seen by football-fervent children during sleep, and of course, the trouble is we rarely notice the magic behind the curtains that leads to such moments – and this is why Busquets falls into the shadows.


“Watch Busquets and you’ll see the game.” The game being a tale of two teams trying to forge enough chances that their attackers would soon be able to hit the net: this is the core of football, making opportunities to score. The planning and passages of play that goes into the opportunity is even more pivotal.


This is when goals are truly made, not the assist – or the assist of the assist – no, the moment before. It is usually created by someone who is able to manipulate the opposition movement, foreseeing their intentions in an almost clairvoyant-like manner. If someone is able to do this on a consistent basis, they’re a world-class match-winner – not that many would notice.


To get this out the way: Busquets’s trophy record is astounding – and his other stats, if ever thoroughly researched, place him in that almost deity division of players we often fawn over. But with numbers and figures, magic and sentiment are often lost, and so for that reason, there is no point mentioning these sorts of achievements much further, other than to say he’s trophy-laden for club and country.


Photo: FC Barcelona


He’s now 31 – not that you would know that as online football accounts seldom celebrate players with such reserved quality – and is so good those who play alongside with or above him in the game appear to suggest he’s invaluable, as you will see from quotes further below.


The player whose best goal tally in a season playing for a free-scoring tika-taka club is just three, is seldom talked about, only spoken about in passing by BT Sports pundits after a good half or in other rose-tinted slightly wishy-washy football articles like this one. Indeed, he’s often dubbed by us writers as- puppeteer, orchestrator, pivot –  but he is so much more than these types of superlatives commonly used.


Such tags also suggest that Busquets can’t shoot, dribble, or run, particularly well – and while this is true, he’s more than just a backbone. You would be hard-pressed to find someone with as much footballing intelligence as him.


The towering Catalan player who proudly sits on the halfway line like a Roman general overseeing the fight while simultaneously strategising and providing the players ahead of him with situations any attacker can only dream of, is able to conjure mini moments of not-so-obvious delight which often see him join battle himself.


Photo: Diario AS


These moments require multiple watches to truly feel – and understand – the subdued of immense quality he has. Here are some:


He is the best player in the world. He never plays badly, and always solves any problems.


Busquets was only 21 and already a World Cup winner in 2010 during Pep Guardiola’s reign. At the Nou Camp against José Mourinho’s Real Madrid – please overlook the superlative again, this one being even more abrasive – but along with Andrés Iniesta, he shared what this writer believes to be the best El Clásico performance by a midfielder in modern history.


Barcelona won 5-0; not only did they beat Real, they beat them the way they wanted. Think cat playing with a mauled bird only more aesthetically-pleasing. It wasn’t just humiliation from boundless goals, it was complete dominance from Pep Guardiola-induced passing.


Busquets – perhaps then better known as Sergio by most during this point, being the heart of it, the beating drum, the puppeteer, orchestrator, etc – encapsulated his performance midway through the second half. Iniesta effortlessly leapt around three Real players with the ball at his feet; Busquets moved, positioning himself on the sideline.


Photo: Getty


There they enjoyed several back and forths, the ravenous David and the elegant Goliath playing with pure ease against Mourinho’s astute side; the move saw Busquets hitting the ball with interchanging parts of his feet and limps before the smaller Spaniard skipped away in space. Utter perfection.


The highlights reel showers the resulting goal, not how simplicity such as this spawned them 20 seconds prior. That part is left missing by seconds.


I have never seen such an intelligent player on the pitch.


The most obvious, compact,  and GIFied showing of Busquets’s unworldly movement comes in not too long after, against their rivals again, this time in the Champions League.


Messi, only 23, was already the club’s top scorer by the time he played against Real Madrid in the 2011 semifinal. For his brace, he skipped past five players; and, slightly falling to his right, was able to push the ball past Iker Casillas.


Photo: Getty


If you revisit it, watch Busquets. Don’t allow your eyes to be seduced to the right on screen by the dazzling brilliance of Messi for his teammate provides something of equal brilliance.


The Argentine is only able to charge due to Busquets’s simple move forward, action at the right time; the perfect second, against a breathless Real Madrid midfield during the last ten minutes.


Facing a barrier of eight Real men, a single step takes out four men. Messi then goes on to do the same, only taking just over three seconds longer to do so. Two men taking out eight men utilising their own particular set of talents on the pitch. One used his feet, the other his mind.


Without Busquets, Barcelona and Spain could never have achieved what we have.


It’s a 2014 World Cup qualifier against France. Xavi, the author of the above, is alongside Xabi Alonso and our man. Guess who provided the most spine-tingling magnificent pass of the night?


Photo: Scott Heavey / Getty


There’s the striker, he wiggles past him – no touch necessary, simply using the trajectory of the ball in his favour. Now on the halfway line, there’s the midfield to tangle with. Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi. The hope is to push the ball past them so David Villa can find himself in space on the front foot with the ball between himself and opposition.


 But sometimes the opposition is defensively rigid and world-class and you cannot make a positive move and you’re forced sideways or backwards. The only way is to thread the ball through the tightest of corridors to pick out someone in a more advanced position. And that’s what he did.


The ball rolled off his heel, gliding, the toes of the fully-outstretched French midfielders hoping to disrupt its movement missed by only an inch; had the ball gone any more to the right or left it would have been theirs and they surely would be an attack with for France would be on. Good thing Busquets is able to pass this way. He does it all the time, in passages of play which are rarely discussed.


Fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.


Right out the Gareth Keenan handbook that one, yet it’s incredibly pertinent to the next moment, this time in the Champions League against Arsenal in 2016. The Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez days: the OP trio who just ravaged and scored and humiliated, quite frankly, in a manner which no striking force had done since Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás for Real in the 1960s.


Photo: Richard Heathcoate / Getty


 This game finished 3-1 at the Nou Camp. Headlines were taken by the Musketeers upfront, each getting a goal. But it was in this game where Busquets provided the most gracious example of his trademark move, gesturing forward before dragging back and advancing forward on the opposite boot.


It’s so predictable it’s almost head-scratching how defenders have not yet caught on, similar to that of Arjen Robben when he drilled down right and cut to the inside left when approaching the box. But this is even more ridiculous as it’s carried out by an awkward-footed holding midfielder who you expect to topple over at any second through the onslaught of legs clawing at his feet.


As Busquets cushions the ball near the touchline, Francis Coquelin, presumably basking in his current Beastmode tag, aggressively and somewhat short-sightedly, lunges a foot in.


He gives the tiniest spectre of a move forward, plunging his opposition into that direction, fully committed, before pulling back and releasing into another direction. Now he’s ahead of the Arsenal midfield, enabling Barca to push into dangerous territory.


Watch his compilations online, observe how many times he does that move. Over and over, he does it. It’s simple, it’s tedious. It’s unshakably effective.


Photo: Power Sport Images / Getty


I don’t want people talking about me, for good or bad.


What can be left to say of him? Lots. In fact, it’s a shame he is often overlooked in typical football discussions of great midfielders, his masterclasses often go without praise  – not that he would want it, the man famous for his rigid mentality of doing his job, once described by Xavi as a ‘functional’ – and it’s clear that other more shiny players featuring for Barcelona have seen him burrowed into the ground as a mere necessity who does what he does very well but that’s all.


But unpack it and you will see that though Busquets offers more than you realise. He was born to write football, to master the pitch – guru, centrepiece, orchestrator, etc – and this sense there is no doubt that he will be winning trophies from the leather seat on the touchline in a matter of years; maybe or 15 or so, given he wants to play until he is 40.


Indeed, he’s halfway through and he’s already conquered. A football writer once joked Busquets has seemed to be around forever. It could be that he starts every game. Every. Game. Some 500-odd club appearances in just over ten years. The lowest amount of appearances he’s acquired in a single season was 41, his inaugural one in 2008/09. For arguably the best team in the world, that’s sublime.


But longevity is, for some reason, rarely picked up on as a tenant of greatest. Instead, they look to something called heart.


Photo: AFP / Getty


They often say heart is a fundamental core of a great player. They say Gary Neville didn’t have much talent but was able to forge a successful career on heart. Some even believe heart is what tips Cristiano Ronaldo over Messi. Busquets does not possess a footballing heart whatsoever – and if he did, he wouldn’t be half as good.


People with heart make errors, their emotions seem through and their human side comes out. They are then moralised. Busquets, however, is a machine. Not in the Arturo Vidal sense – no. Rather that he seemingly plays the same way every time.


He does what he does over and over and nothing is able to stop it. Nothing curtails him from changing his approach, it’s always the same. But don’t be confused into thinking with repetition stems dullness…probably another reason why he falls under the radar so often.


Sadly that’s the cosmetics of football for the average fan. Intelligent play is a very obscure pleasure reserved for the more attuned football supporter, the ones who might see Zidane, Un Portrait du 21e Siècle and their hairs stand up on end almost in outright respect to the Frenchman’s wizardry on show.


Photo: IMDB


Indeed, Busquets gives football something that is beyond tricks and showboating. A human form of masterminded tactical blueprint, both on the ball and in positioning.


Busquets’ simplicity is unrefined sporting beauty.


That’s my own. A tad pretentious, but this is a frothy rose-tinted football article after all.


We can put it among other corny phrases attributed to the man whose grace in the sport transcends football to an artistic quality unmatched by any other in his field. (If you believe that kind of thing).


By: Jacque Talbot


Photo: @GabFoligno