FC Barcelona is a team of giants. Football’s biggest superstars are often seen wearing the symbolic scarlet and blue. The cataclysmic front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr. is the most talked about. Scoring a multitude of goals and tearing apart opposition defenses with astonishing consistency is bound to get you attention. And, playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, the newspaper columns will always find a way to get you in. However, that hasn’t been the case with a lanky midfielder who has been pulling the strings for the Catalans since his debut in 2008.
Christened ‘The Octopus Of Badia’, Sergio Busquets Burgos has been a critical part of Barcelona’s dominance in recent years. There has never been a good time to write about him. He’s unbelievably consistent for that. On an individual scale, Busquets may seem inconspicuous but, his significance must be assessed on the way he leverages the team collectively. Vicente Del Bosque gave a wonderful insight into what Busquets caters, to both Barcelona and Spain:
“If I could be any player in the world, I would like to be Sergio Busquets. 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.”
Stats don’t portray the picture which Busquets paints for his team. He’s beyond statistical analysis. Abstract. His technical prowess is of the highest order but, what stands out is his mental speed. With the game evolving at a fast pace, space has become a vital part of the game. You have less time to receive, control and play the ball. Busquets’ speed of thought allows him to keep the game flowing. Xavi has said that Busquets is the best one touch player. He receives, controls and passes in one touch because of his speed of thought. He is constantly scrutinizing the field, when and where to go, opponent’s body movement, how to receive and release the ball and to whom. He does all this before he gets the ball. He’s like an extremely fast Rubik’s Cube solver who knows what his next set of moves will be and which colour will fall in a particular place.
Sergio is a calm and calculative player. You won’t seem him charging at players to win possession. And, this is an extremely difficult thing to do. Charging at players when not in position risks losing shape and organization, and leaving unchecked spaces, eventually deranging the balance of the team. A brilliant example of this is Messi’s goal against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the UCL Semi Final. When Diarra was blocked by Busquets, Messi wriggled into the space between Madrid’s defense and midfield which was to be patrolled by Diarra himself. Sergio Ramos swiftly stepped a few yards up the pitch, anticipating to cut Messi’s run short. Messi being the player he is, he exigently changed direction, and sneaked past Raul Albiol into space that Ramos would have been able to occupy had Diarra’s aberration not forced him into making one of his own. You can see the build up here:
Busquets doesn’t do this. Watch him carefully, when an opposition player wins back possession. All he does is take a few steps, not even towards the ball. Rather, he moves in the direction where the opposition player is looking to carry the ball. He reciprocates to not where the ball is but, where the ball will be. He moves towards the opponent’s targeted space and, not towards the opponent and the ball. He seldom makes the first tackle. He makes sure that he’s the one to make the winning tackle, and reorganizing possession. His positional sense and intelligence is unprecedented. That’s why Xabi Alonso said:
“How many times does Sergio Busquets tackle in his position? He’s so ahead of the game, he doesn’t need to.”
Busquets has an inductive sense of space. It’s like there’s a radar in his head which allows him to analyze his surroundings and always take the right decision within micro seconds. He has an extremely rare ability to hold the ball with his back facing his own goal and under extant pressure from the opposition. An amalgamation of intelligence, technical adroitness, tactical awareness and physicality enables him to maneuver out of tricky situations and, gives his teammates time to reorganize back into shape.
Despite all these, Busquets is never given the credit he deserves. He doesn’t have the flashy skills to make people jump out of their seats. Neither does he have spectacular goals to show. But, he has a footballing brain which is 5 seconds ahead of everyone on the pitch. Today Busquets’ quality is much like America’s gun control problem: if you still have not realized it, you probably never will.