A lot of people talk about the goal, but no one ever mentions the assist. Why?
Well, probably because when Lionel Messi is waltzing through an opposition defence you stop everything you’re doing, praise him to the high heavens and pull out every superlative in the book.
Nobody gives Sergio Busquets that level of adulation, but that’s what will help him stand the test of time as one of the greatest sitting midfielders of all time.
That aforementioned goal was Messi’s second in the 2-0 first leg victory over Real Madrid in a Champions League semi-final in 2011. Sure, it was hardly Kevin De Bruyne-esque, but what Busquets has done so well for Barcelona since his debut in 2008 is set a platform and allow others to shine.
So let’s put some more respect on the assist, yeah?
Former Spain international Busquets recently announced he would leave Barça at the end of the 2022/23 season, which is all but guaranteed to end with a first La Liga triumph since 2019. It will be the 32nd and final major honour he wins with the Blaugrana, having scooped eight previous league titles and three Champions Leagues.
His influence on the modern game simply cannot be overstated. Juan Roman Riquelme said in 2022 Busquets ‘changed the concept of football’, while Barça god Johan Cruyff quipped he ‘makes what is difficult look easy’.
From an Argentina legend and the inventor of Barça’s whole modern ideology, that’s high praise.
There is, of course, the hope in Catalonia that young stars like Pedri and Gavi will emulate or surpass Busquets’ legacy, but taking style solely into account, it’s going to be a while before we see the 34-year-old’s FM regen who can swivel, drop a shoulder and play-act to anywhere near his dramatically high standards.
It was those attributes he harnessed so well at the base of Barcelona’s midfield alongside Xavi and Andres Iniesta. With such supreme ball-players alongside him, Busquets never had to be a ‘defensive midfielder’ by definition. He isn’t built in the mould of a classic enforcer like Gennaro Gattuso; instead, Busquets often looks slender and languid, rarely makes a bone-crunching tackle and could keep the ball glued to his foot all game if he wanted.
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He was never a prolific goalscorer, either, with three strikes in all competitions being his best output at club level in the 2008/09, 2013/14 and 2021/22 seasons. He chipped in with 45 club assists over the years, which is just as well as if he’d failed that metric with Barcelona of all teams, there’d be a bunch of half-brained nitwits labelling him a fraud on social media.
But when those same half-brained nitwits see the players and managers who have hailed Busquets as one of the greatest ever, they’ll probably pipe down.
Messi was convinced of Busquets’ talent in their first training session together, while former Spain boss Vicente del Bosque coined the most famous quote related to the midfielder’s endurance and influence.
Players came and went during the final stages of Busquets’ Barça career, though he was still able to adapt when legends like Xavi and later Iniesta moved on and were replaced by Ivan Rakitic and more recently Pedri and Gavi.
There will be many spiritual successors to Busquets over the years. Barcelona’s La Masia academy will have stars of tomorrow who have his turns, pirouettes and, er, methods of gamesmanship seared into their brains, and rightly so.
Even for those who cannot stand Busquets for those dramatic antics – especially the peeking eyes between the fingers whenever he hit the deck – the Barça stalwart’s longevity, avoidance of major injuries and consistency set the base for one of the club’s most successful periods ever. He fought off competition from Seydou Keita, Javier Mascherano and Yaya Toure for his starting role and never looked like giving it up.
Busquets is the proven gold standard for deep midfielders and his influence can be seen around Europe’s top five leagues, from Rodri to Joshua Kimmich and young upstarts Pedri and Gavi.
He grew into a leader over the years, to such an extent that current boss Xavi didn’t want him to leave. However, Busquets won everything there is to win with both Barça and internationally with Spain and has shown now he knows when the time is right to step aside.
Barça will hope to celebrate Busquets’ legendary Barça career with one last La Liga title, a fitting finale for a player who combined simplicity with style so immeasurably.
And now, Vicente, if you could please say the line.
“You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game.”
On this edition of Talking Transfers, part of the 90min podcast network, Scott Saunders, Graeme Bailey & Toby Cudworth discuss the possibility of Neymar joining Newcastle, Jude Bellingham’s decision on his future, Lionel Messi leaving PSG & more!
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