Minutes into the 2015 UEFA Champions League Final between FC Barcelona and Italian giants Juventus, Sergio Busquets collects the ball in a deep position, facing his own goal that lays just 25-yards away.
Without another Barça teammate between himself and goalkeeper Marc ter Stegan, the Old Lady’s front two of Álvaro Morata and Carlos Tevez raced in to close Busquets down, accompanied by a feisty Arturo Vidal; all desperate to nick the ball from the Catalan midfielder – ‘Culés’ screamed frantically at their number 5 to clear the ball from danger as time stood still for his Barcelona teammates and the 380 million viewers watching worldwide.
The only individual on the planet that seemed unphased whatsoever by the situation was Busquets; who nonchalantly opened up his body to let the ball slide across him and seemingly into the path of the onrushing Vidal before executing his trademark dragback, pushing the ball through the centre of the three Juve attackers at an agonisingly casual pace – leaving the Chilean sprawling on the seat of his shorts with Tevez and Morata running into one another – before clipping a perfectly weighted pass over the heads of the midfield and into the path of Lionel Messi.
Days after lifting his 20th trophy with Barça in Berlin, ‘Busi’ was sat in a local cafe in his hometown of Cerdanyola del Vallès eating a celebratory meal with family and friends that he grew up with. Just 5 minutes down the road is the home of CD Badia del Vallès, the club that Busquets represented as a young boy. Following the professedly sedate midfielder’s triumph with the Spanish National Team at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the club paid tribute to their starlet by naming their stadium ‘Campo Municipal Sergio Busquets’ and their hero posed bashfully as local newspapers snapped photographs of him stood before his name that was erected above the ground’s carpark.
At only 22-years old, Sergio Busquets already had a legendary status amongst his people in this modest part of the world where apartment blocks surround football pitches on every other street corner. Born in Sabadell on July 16th 1988, Sergio spent his early years supporting his father from the Camp Nou stands. Carles Busquets kept goal for his beloved Barça for 12 years after signing a professional contract in 1987. Though he was primarily used as a back-up for Portuguese keeper Vitor Baia and then Dutchman Ruud Hesp, Barça fans around the city are full of affectionate stories about the 5ft 11in shotstopper that would jump at any given opportunity to join in the fun with his outfield colleagues. One fan fondly reminisced: “That guy was crazy! He’d bring the ball out 30-yards from his own goal and join play. Great penalty saver!”
French daily football newspaper ‘L’ Equipe’ once labelled Busquets “The Goalkeeper without hands.”
After clashing with manager Louis van Gaal, Busquets played out the remainder of his career at UE Lleida, completing 4 seasons with the Catalan club in the Spanish Segunda division and Segunda B. Following retirement he joined Barcelona’s coaching staff, working with the goalkeepers. Like younger brother Aitor, Sergio began kicking a ball as soon as he could walk, surrounded by the game and a father that was a professional at the most elite of levels. Representing local teams Badia and Barberà Andalucia, Busi was never built or moved quite like a natural athlete. Picked up by UE Lleida at the age of 11 and travelling to training and games with his father (the first team goalkeeper at the time) Sergio felt the pressures of his dad’s shadow and the lanky teen ultimately failed to impress. After spending four years with the club’s academy, he was released at the age of 16; described as “awkward” and “too slow to make it at such a high level.”
Not giving up the game completely, Busquets went to play with ametuers Jàbac Terrassa, the hometown club of Xavi Hernández. The Terrassa born midfield maetsro dominated games in the middle of Jabac’s midfield until word crept through to La Masia that the 11-year old needed to be attained. Xavi lived in a farmhouse in the small Catalan city that boasts a population of a little more than 200,000 throughout his Barcelona career. The serial winner is a self-diagnosed football maniac, obsessed with the game and always keen to support local charity events and sports, he would visit Jàbac Terrassa’s ‘Unió de Futbol Base’ often to see youth teams.
Sergio Busquets was already renowned name around FC Barcelona as his father was working with the club’s coaching staff by 2002 and when Xavi began to gush about the young man’s football intelligence levels, daring and brave nature when in possession; a 16-year old Busquets was invited to train with Barcelona’s Juvenil B team in the summer of 2005. The coaches immediately fell in love with the boy of the Sabadell valleys and were more than eager to slot him into the position known as the ‘pivote’ that sits between the defence and midfield. The said role was introduced to the world by Johan Cruyff; using it to great effect during his reign, with Pep Guardiola the guinea pig tested in Barcelona’s European championship winning team of 1992. Cruyff speaks on his admiration of Sergio Busquets: “Positionally, he seems like a veteran with or without the ball. With the ball he makes what is difficult look easy. Without the ball, he gives us a lesson: that of being in the right place to intercept and running just to recover the ball.”
As years have gone by, it has become more and more common to hear of the position just in front of the defence and behind the midfield: the holding midfielder. Though much of the Barça of 92 team’s play commenced through Guardiola’s pin-point passing, he was predominantly there to break up counter attacks and offer support to the defensive-line so that the full backs Juan Carlos (left back) and Eusebio (right back) could have the freedom to offer an addition to attacking solutions and create from wide areas.
Busquets retreated from his usual central midfield role and into a pivote position, spending a season learning the ins-and-outs of the job and what it entails – a crucial year in the boy’s life, learning daily and also playing with the pressures of having the unbeaten ‘Machine of 87′ (the Barcelona youth team that included Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas) having gone before him whilst surrounded by other prodigies, all hopeful of walking out of the Camp Nou tunnel across the road one day.
If Busi was the student his first 12 months, then he well and truly became a teacher in his second term, leading from his newly found region of the field to score seven goals in 26 games and laying on 12 more for his Juvenil A teammates. His reading of the game enriched at rapid speeds and so did his vision as most of the games would take part in front of him as he was always delighted to linger in positions to clean up and recycle play. Following his highly successful 2nd season with the Blaugrana, the most significant of figures in Sergio Busquets’ career entered the fold and the 18-year old never looked back.
Pep Guardiola took control of the Barcelona B team and found a new obsession in Busquets in no time, demanding that the ‘Number 6’ signed a professional contract and became the conductor of the side’s heartbeat instantly. Through Pep’s visionary thinking, huge changes were made that were initially questioned by the club hierarchy and young players alike. As well as training times and structures being altered, nutrition and diet regimes were put in place, sleeping patterns were changed and he often gathered his budding squad together for tactical chats whilst showing videos that the Catalan coach had collected from his scouts. These were all brand new approaches to day-to-day work, alien to the players.
Busquets made 32 appearances and played a deciding role in the 2007/2008 season that saw the B team race to promotion to the Segunda Division. Club President Joan Laporte was quick to promote Pep to the manager’s position of the first team at only 36-years of age. Alongside the Canary Island born Pedro Rodríguez, Sergio Busquets made the move across the road to the Camp Nou with Guardiola and was shot into an imperative act immediately.
On the back of what can only be described as a disastrous season under Frank Rijkaard’s control (the term ‘control’ is used loosely) – where the club failed to progress further than the semi-finals of any competition, finishing 3rd in the La Liga table and a whopping 18 points behind eventual champions and arch-rivals, Real Madrid – Pep made 10 changes to the squad, including two vital alterations that dropped jaws around the globe. Previous Ballon d’Or winner and club legend Ronaldinho was shown the door as well as Deco, who had also won several trophies with the Catalan giants. The two Brazilians were seen as distractions and bad influences by the new man in charge and he wasn’t willing to take a chance on either of them as he was more than aware of the commotions caused in the previous 18-months, seeing their decline in form and lack of professionalism as a huge reason for his predecessor Rijkaard being released from his duties.
Pep’s overhaul saw the leadership fall to young men that came through La Masia’s ranks (3 of which were fresh from Spain’s Euro 2008 prosperity) and, more importantly humble and hungry enough learn a new way of football, assisting Guardiola to his perfectionist ideas of guiding the club back to the highest of football heights.
Sergio Busquets was a culé, a local boy that had grown up idolising former Barça players, and he was now thrown into the spotlight and an essential role of a new era, not only in the history of FC Barcelona, but of world football.
An ambiguous figure with a stance that most certainly doesn’t scream “PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER” in your face, Barça fans were instinctively sceptical of the 19-year old at first. However, the security of Busquets retreating into a central defensive role from midfield not only gave full-backs Dani Alves and Éric Abidal licenses to maraud down the flanks, but also Xavi and Iniesta the assurance of an intelligent, strong player behind them that could link-up play and assist as well as any midfielder across the globe. This was more than enough for Pep Guardiola and the boy with number 28 on his back was preferred to both the dynamic and physical Yaya Toure and Malian Seydou Keïta.
The exceptional performances caught the eye of Spanish National team coach Vicente del Bosque and Busquets was called up to the squad for a freindly against England in February 2009 before winning his La Furia Roja debut two months later in a World Cup qualifier against Turkey. The international appearances were just another feather in the cap of the Catalan kid as Barça broke league records and sprinted to a league championship, followed by Copa del Rey and Champions League titles to complete a historic treble, shaking the world and changing the way that football was both played and viewed forevermore.
A brand new concept was brought to the people’s game and nobody could compete with Pep’s Barça that are considered as one of the greatest teams in history. Playing with extreme width at all times, whether it be the attack-minded full backs (known as “Laterales” and a hugely vital part of Pep’s game-plan) or the wide forwards, there was always an outlet. All 11 players were comfortable with the ball – including Victor Valdes in goal – and opponents would be sucked into tight areas as passes were zipped around in hypnotizing, one-touch passing moves before any given player would spring out and away from the defenders, (which were absorbed to the ball) switching play to create a 1-against-1 for the colleague in space before a teammate could apply the support to double up on the penitent opponents that begged for mercy.
Sergio Busquets is a football education to watch and was described as “The Octopus of Badia” by besotted coach Guardiola due to having outright control of games in several districts of the field at once and using his acumen to manipulate opponents into believing they had him cornered before leaving them devastated with an effortless mirage of footwork or executing a killer pass, subsequently throwing players off-balance by using his upper body to telegraph a move in the complete opposite direction.
The winning didn’t stop for Busquets or his teammates, bringing home the Fifa Club World Cup, Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Super Cup and of course the La Liga title in the 2009/2010 season where Busi starred in 51 games, racking up a whopping 2,941 minutes of football before jetting off to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.
Sparing the final 30 minutes of the opening group game against Switzerland, the 6ft 2in midfield-anchor featured in every single moment of the 2010 World Cup, and proved to be indispensable in a ‘doble-pivote’ position alongside Xabi Alonso in a formation that initially caused controversy as heated debates commenced around the nation. Parents Loli and Carles beamed with pride and tears of joy dropped whilst watching on with locals as their oldest son lifted the ultimate prize in world sport, frequently stopping to grin for photographers with the green scarf of his first ever club CD Badia de Vallès around his neck. From playing 3rd division football just 20 months before, it wasn’t bad going for their boy that was labelled as “awkward” and “too slow to make it” only seven years prior.
As he is becoming one of the most decorated players in football history, winning two more Champions League winners medals that sit prettily on his mantelpiece beside his Euro 2012 and seven La Liga trophies, Busi is at the peak of his powers and has adoring fans amongst peers and some of the most respected names in the football world. A matter-of-fact player with extreme intellect that gets the task complete in the most efficient way possible, with no extra gimmicks. “You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game. If I could come back and play as any player, it would be Sergio Busquets” – Vicente del Bosque.
Bravery has various meanings in different footballing cultures. In some, a brave player means being physically strong and willing to throw yourself head-first into tackles that some wouldn’t even dream of putting their foot into. In Spain and specifically in the culture that FC Barcelona have built around their club, there is no braver player on god’s green planet than Sergio Busquets Burgos. Whether he’s withdrawing into areas outside his own 18-yard box to receive the ball from the goalkeeper, attracting opposition attackers before caressing the ball wide to his central defenders that have split or gathering the ball in excessively tight areas to supply breathing space for teammates prior to displaying his spectacularly tidy feet that bamboozle abashed opponents and releasing a perplexing pass at an angle that not even the fans in the highest seats of the arena had the vision to see as a possibility.
In the previous four seasons, Busquets has hit levels of consistency that are unthinkable, becoming ‘Mr Dependable’ for Barça, this was witnessed when he picked up a niggle that saw him sidelined for three games. A player whose effect on the game is even more noticeable when he doesn’t play and with sky-high retention levels, Barça’s number 5 makes up for his lack of pace by his speed of thought. Always three steps ahead, if an opposition break-away on a counter then you can bet your mortgage that he has already read the ending of the story before the author picked up the pen. A timely tackler that is regularly seen emerging with the ball after using his gangly legs to hook it away from attackers feet and into his own stride before hitting a perfectly weighted pass to an expectant teammate.
Recent performances have even led to pundits and media around the world sitting up to finally take notice of this one in a billion genius that lies before us, which is remarkable due to the lack of assists and goals beside his name in a time when punters have never been so obsessed with statistics. Nonetheless, putting what Sergio Busquets does into numbers would be the biggest injustice that you could insult the man with. Dozens of midfielders have been in and out of both the Barcelona and Spain midfields, yet Busquets has remained a permanent fixture; part of the furniture in a pivotal role that keeps his team ticking.
Whilst the headlines go to teammates such as Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, Busi is more than happy to sacrifice the limelight to play the role behind the stage-curtains. Goals, exposure and advertisement deals are not what makes this individual tick. Yet, FC Barcelona would not be FC Barcelona without their number 5 in the line-up. “I’ve never seen such an intelligent player on the pitch. Without Busquets, Barcelona and Spain could never have achieved what we have achieved” – Xavi Hernández.
A reserved man off the field that lives and breathes for the game and knows exactly what is needed and when it needs to be done. Busquets turns up, dominates the flow, dictates the tempo and then disappears from the face of the earth before coming back next week.