Immortality. Creating something which lasts forever. That’s what we all are looking for, aren’t we? That long after you’re gone, you won’t be forgotten. Sporting immortality is often achieved through a moment.
Lebron James’s block against the Golden State Warriors, Rafael Nadal’s first Wimbledon title in 2008 and Tiger Woods winning the Masters in 1997. All those moments where you remember where you were when they occurred. Sergio Busquets doesn’t have this moment. There is not a defining moment when you think about him. Yet, he still became the greatest defensive midfielder football has ever seen and, thus, achieving immortality. Doesn’t make sense does it, but then again nothing about the Catalan does.
Busquets has been in the backdrop of the best teams in football history. He has been the very foundation those teams were based on, steering them to trophy upon trophy. He did so effortlessly. Conducting a football game with his right foot as if it were a baton, changing the positions of his opposition constantly, making them go back and forth, left, and right, giving them motion sickness like a seasick sailor.
Since he walked into Barcelona’s first team against Racing Santander in 2008, he has never lost his place and truthfully has never looked like he would. Even with all these accolades, he never lost himself to the wrong directions that fame can give you. He came, he played, and he left.
He never played with bravado or an edge, but instead, with an air of arrogance. Arrogance is wrongly construed as a negative term in the sporting world. The best players go into every game with that arrogance to showcase their skills. Busquets is no different. Every game he went into, it looked like it he purposefully tried to make at least one opposition player look foolish. And on some occasions, even referees as well.
You all know what I mean. The 2010 Champions League Semi-Final against Inter, with the infamous peek-a-boo incident. Where he clutched his face and fell only to peek through and see if the referee had fallen for it, which he did. Is this author like many other “purists” of the game who see this as a blight on him? Nope, not in the slightest.
This is high-level sport; people will do anything they need to do to win. There are no trophies for sportsmanship, only for winners and misery awaits the losers and for that, I never saw him as a cheat. Too much of the conversation around Busquets after this incident was around his “playacting” and not enough about his technical ability.
His magical ability to escape a tight space could only be rivalled by David Blaine. His disguised passes whilst looking in a different direction is a sleight of hand that you could never figure out. Just like his magical counterpart, you couldn’t quite believe what you were seeing. You had to rub your eyes and make sure your vision wasn’t fooling you.
How could a man who couldn’t run at all constantly intercept the opposition? A man who wasn’t a tough tackler play as a lone CDM in the most expansive team in world football for a decade? To top it off, he had the body of a long-distance runner and no shooting prowess at all. His game in theory “shouldn’t” work, yet it did, and thrived instead.
He was indispensable. A unicorn. What he lacked in physicality, he made up for in intelligence. He knew where the ball was going to be because he had to know where it was going to be. Failure meant attackers would run free at the defence and through on goal, which became a constant reoccurrence in recent years. Nevertheless, in his prime, nothing seemed to escape the net he cast over the pitch.
Pep Guardiola stated that if he was reincarnated as a player, he’d like to be like Busquets. Funny, since the opposite is always stated to be the case. Pep saw how special he was with Barcelona B and gave him his debut for Barcelona in 2008. When coming into the team, he had Yaya Toure in his position. But so special was the Catalan the world-class Ivorian was soon riding the bench. By the end of the year, he had won everything that club football offered, being a key part of Barcelona’s sextuple.
Soon after, he replaced Marcos Senna, a key part of Spain’s Euro 2008 campaign, seamlessly for La Roja, nd in 2010 won the World Cup. In 2012, he played every minute as Spain won the title and he was in the Team of the Tournament. By 23, he won everything that football had to offer. But more importantly than trophies, it was his combination alongside Xavi and Iniesta which will stick in the memory.
Trophies are the result of consistency and hard work but how you play is as important as winning in Barcelona. A club that prides itself on playing football the “right way” (there is no right way). The football Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets played in midfield was sublime. The connection, the trust, it was a symphony of one-touch play, making opponents dizzy, forcing them to run marathons instead of playing a football game.
Busquets is seen as inferior to the other two, but for me, he is on par with them. You can’t have an orchestra without a conductor. Even though they are seen as insignificant to the audience, without them there is no direction, no coordination and the musicians cannot shine. Busquets provided this direction and stability to two legendary teams and for that, should be known as one of the greatest midfielders to play the game.
His summer departure signifies the end of an era in Barcelona and feels a few years overdue. Barcelona’s focus on attack instead of midfield led to less protection for Busquets and often led to him being overrun in midfield. This culminated in multiple champions league humiliations and Barcelona lagging the rest of Europe when it comes to intensity.
Busquets himself knows he is not the same player he once was and that is why he has been thinking about leaving for a few years and has let his contract run out. Knowing when to stop is often the hardest thing in sports, but just like he knew when to play the perfect pass, Busquets knew when to leave his boyhood club.
722 matches, 32 trophies and a lifetime of memories. Busquets has dazzled, turned, dragged back, and faked out opponents and spectators for over 15 years. But it is time for a new defensive midfielder at Barcelona. Players come and go, but icons last forever. And what Busquets has done will be etched in Blaugrana hearts forever.
By: Abu Yasin / @Abuy2j
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto