By Dermot Corrigan

Even as they hoover up title after title, it is hard to dislike Barcelona. Mention Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández or Andrés Iniesta and the eyes of any football fan will light up. Talk about Carlés Puyol or Javier Mascherano and there will be mostly praise for their commitment and attitude. As soon as Josep Guardiola enters the conversation, many will swoon. Bring up Sergio Busquets though, and frowns and even some snarls quickly appear.

This dislike is not just limited to neutral or opposition fans. Arsene Wenger recently shared his at best ambivalent view of Barca’s one bad guy.

“He is very smart and knows how to help the team,” Wenger told Eurosport. “He is clever, he forces the ref to give yellow cards to opponents. He pretends to be hurt whereas he is the one who kicked. He has all the moral weaknesses that help in football. His intelligence really helps the team.”

Wenger’s opinion of Busquets is widely shared by non-Barca fans, and there’s plenty of evidence to call upon. Internazionale supporters in particular will remember the “peek-a-boo” incident when Thiago Motta was sent off in the 2010 Champions League semi-final. As well over-reacting to opponent’s tackles, Busquets can make some nasty challenges himself, while the most unsavoury charges against him were the never really proven or disproven allegations of racism in last season’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

Coaches who have worked with the player take a very different view. Upon taking charge of Barcelona’s first team in summer 2008, Guardiola immediately promoted the then 20 year old midfielder (along with Pedro Rodríguez) from the Barca B squad where all three had just won the Spanish third division. That decision was quickly vindicated. Busquets picked up that season’s La Liga’s ‘young player of the year’ award, Barca won the treble and the no-longer-needed Yaya Touré was sold to Manchester City.

The transition to key player at international level was almost as rapid. Vicente del Bosque gave Busquets his senior Spanish debut in April 2009, sending him on for David Silva with Spain 1-1 away at Turkey in a vital World Cup qualifier. Spain got a late winner and by the following year’s finals he was an automatic starter alongside Xabi Alonso in deep midfield. The decision was not always understood in Spain, particularly in Madrid, where pundits argued that it forced Xavi too far forward and left no place for Cesc Fábregas.

Del Bosque dismissed these protests before the tournament started:

“If I could be any player in the world, I would like to be Sergio Busquets,” the ex-Real Madrid coach said. “He does everything. He is always ready to help the team, he is generous, he works hard defensively and he gets the team playing. When he plays well, our football is more fluid.”

Spain of course went on to win the title, with Busquets starting each game and Spain not conceding a goal in the knock-out stages. The generous help which Del Bosque speaks of is equally important at club level. While team-mates zip back and forth, he usually holds his position near the centre circle. With full-backs like Dani Alves and Adriano Correia often spending more time in the oppositions half than their own, and Guardiola regularly experimenting with a three-man defence, Busquets’ job is vital. Nicknamed ‘el pulpo’ (‘the octopus’), his rangy frame and speed across the ground mean he’s often cut out opposition attacks almost before they’ve begun, by fair means if possible, by (tactical) foul if not.

Marti Pernarau, author of a book called ‘The Path of Champions – From La Masia to the Camp Nou’, calls Busquets an “invisible friend”:

“He is the hub around which the blaugrana machine turns,” writes Pernarau quite poetically. “The best midfielder in the world for their style of play. As an anchor he breaks up the play and generates spaces. As a sail he contributes the air to unfurl attacks. He is the first fireman to arrive at the fire and the last to collect the hoses and return the helmets to the locker… He is not fast or agile or flexible. He is not strong, or powerful, nor does he have a low centre of gravity to support himself. But he is indispensable. You do not see him, but he is always there. He is the invisible friend.”

This ability to “unfurl” attacks is perhaps a less widely appreciated part of Busquets’ game. He is always available for a pass from a team-mate and almost always chooses the right option – whether a first time ball forward to Messi or Iniesta to quickly attack, a short ball to Xavi to let him begin another move or a pass backwards to Piqué or Puyol to calm things down and start again. And when opposition teams look to man-mark Xavi or Iniesta, Busquets is more than capable of stepping forward and picking a pass himself. In pretty much any other side in the world he would be the main playmaking midfielder, but ‘Busi’ deliberately limits himself to the role which Barca and Spain require.

With Guardiola currently managing his resources ahead of the upcoming visit of Real Madrid to the Camp Nou between two Champions League semi-final legs against Chelsea, his requirements are changing from game to game. Last Saturday at Real Zaragoza Busquets was rested, and in a frantic first-half Zaragoza’s Carlos Aranda missed a penalty before putting his side 1-0 ahead. Puyol and Messi scored for Barca, but even against ten men they struggled to control the game and it looked dicey until Guardiola introduced Busquets for Seydou Keita on 55 minutes. The Catalan side immediately looked calmer, took control of possession and eventually won 4-1.

Then on Tuesday at the Camp Nou against Getafe, Guardiola loaded his side with pacy attackers to get around the opposition’s predictably massed defence. Busquets this time had a double role, stepping back beside Mascherano at centre-half when required, but also moving the ball quickly to the wings to set Pedro or Isaac Cuenca away behind Getafe’s ‘parked bus’. Barca won 4-0, Getafe had no shots on target in the entire game, and Spanish sports daily AS gave Busquets three ‘aces’ out of three.

On Wednesday Busi himself was on media duties after Barcelona training. As journalists tried in vain to get him to comment on Real Madrid’s faltering title charge, the responses were typically restrained and modest.

“I feel very well physically, and the team is also doing well,” he said. “Every day I am learning all kinds of new things, I am very young and I hope that my best moment is still to come.”

The almost-upon-us three games in six days against Chelsea and Madrid will likely give Busquets more opportunities to test both sides of his game. These look the type of even, tense, tight games where teams need to use all the tools available to them. For all their neat passing play and beautifully constructed goals, Guardiola’s Barcelona would not have won 13 of 16 available trophies without occasionally edging into territory Wenger might see as distasteful.

Barcelona-based Scottish writer Graham Hunter, in his recently published ‘Barca: The Greatest Team in the World‘, argues that Guardiola promoted Busquets so quickly as he recognised that the two shared a winning mentality he wanted his team to show on the pitch.

“(Busquets) is a ferocious competitor and there are many people who believe he uses those instincts to nefarious ends,” writes Hunter. “Nevertheless, I believe he is the member of Guardiola’s team who, in percentage terms, most resembles his manager as a player.”

If Barca do come out on top in the coming days and deliver a final knockout blow to Chelsea’s old guard and further eating into Madrid’s once decisive-looking La Liga lead. there will surely be more moans about Busquets from opposition fans and players. Nobody on his own side will be complaining though, least off all his coach.

Dermot Corrigan is a freelance Irish sportswriter who lives in Madrid and writes about soccer for publications including The Score, FOXSoccer.com, Sport 360° and When Saturday Comes. Contact him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.

Comments (17)

  1. Good piece, avid Barca fan and have often argued with the husband about Busquets. Because he’s so quiet (unless rolling on the ground), I’ve tended to discount his role, but this article gave me pause.

  2. Great read, puts a different perspective on his antics.

  3. “Sergio Busquets – The Brilliant Mind”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijDdpNxPyPU

    All the evidence one really needs to see the importance of Busquets. He’s a top 10 player in the world no doubt. Amazing article.

  4. The hate against Busquets is tiring and actually scary as to which point media can influence people’s mind. Even that of Wenger, whose Barcelona obsession is starting to get pathetic. No one can talk about his players but he can say everything he wants about others.

    Cristiano Ronaldo can dive three times every game, but still Busquets is the biggest diver in history for a lot of people, due to the propaganda from English and Madrid media. Everything because of the peekaboo image against Inter, which wasn’t even a dive (he wàs hit in the face by Motta, who deserved his second yellow for that stupid and unnecesary action), but an exaggeration.

    • Just like like Messi can score with his hands, kick the ball into a fan’s face on purpose, spit at opponents…yet he is humble and sportsmen like and Ronaldo is arrogant and unsportsmen like…you are right, funny how the media influence’s people’s minds.

      • What does that have to be with Messi being humble? he kicked the ball away..not deliberately into fans faces..that again, has nothing to do with his humility..and he scored a goal with his hand when he was a TEENAGER, again NOTHING to do with his humility.
        The media didnt influence anything with regards to Cristina and Messi. Their actions every match speak for themselves and it is clear to see that Messi is as humble as a footballer you’ll ever see, while the thigh-showing wonder bo that Cristina is not.

        People’s attempts deflect from the subject at hand is laughable.

    • Busquets dives almost every time he gets tackled. By the way, if you actually think that Motta’s 2nd yellow was deserved, then you’re just a delusional barca fan.
      He grazed his chin, yet busquets acts like he got shot in the eye, which is why he got the yellow. Had busquets not acted like that, there would have been no yellow. So many players use their hands like that, yet don’t get booked.
      I’ve watched plenty of barca games, and Busquets isn’t world class, but he fits perfectly into the barca system. I don’t think there are many other players in the world that could replace him. If he got rid of the acting and diving, people might see his quality.

      • Youre the delusional one..Busquets was shoved in the neck..and admittedly went down easily and exaggeratedly. Go back and watch the clips before talking nonsense.
        You would think that an incident that happened 3 years ago which didnt even help Barca to victory over the two legs would be forgotten by now.
        Busquet’s role is important for the team, whether or any other non-fan like its or not. He aint going anywhere so I guess it will continue to burn you.

  5. @Yann
    You seem guilty yourself of taking the “propaganda from the English and Barcelona media” blindly as for the last two seasons at least, Cristiano Ronaldo can hardly be described as a diver. Di Maria, and recently, Pepe, would seem more deserving of that criticism.

    I do feel that Busquets suffers from undue flak for his theatrics (which though lamentable, are not quite as bad as is made out to be, and not much worse than the next guy). I think this is because fans who are sick of Barcelona winning need an object of hate, and there are no obvious candidates in their squad, what with the squeaky-clean image most of their players let on. Busquets, and perhaps Dani Alves, tend to stick out, just because someone has to.

    That, and the face-clutching when hit nowhere near the face. That’s just low.

  6. Is there anyone in world football more tactically mobile and intelligent as Sergio Busquets?

  7. I totally disagree with your assertion that its hard to dislike Barca. With players like Busquets, Puyol, Mascherano, Inesta, Pedro and Alves they are easy to hate. I certainly seem to find more and more people growing tired of Barca’s shit. I really hope Real wins the league at least this year. And even as Gunner I will be pulling for Chelsea to beat Barca in the CL. Brilliant football yes, despicable cheating divers, also yes. And Busquets is a perfect example of the team, brilliant footballer who is a top player without all the bull shit, yet is totally full of bull shit.

    • Do you think anyone will realistically knock them off?

      I think Madrid may have a shot, but not too sure about the others.

    • Ofcourse its not hard to dislike Barca. The most succesful persons, groups, things are always the most hated. Its jealousy plain and simple.

      People are growing tired of one team dominating, thats it.

      Why? I dont know. I guess its in human nature to be envious and insecure?

      Why can’t fans enjoy the football and stop finding ways to discredit a team that is making it enjoyable and brining the excitement back to the game?

  8. I understand that there’s a lot of vitriol between Real and Barca fans, but doesn’t it often boil down to a preference for style? Both clubs present a different philosophy and that’s one of the things that makes soccer such a great game!
    Whilst I’m a Barca fan I can acknowledge that Busquets and Alves (possible even Fabregas) have a tendency to be a little divey. By the same token, Pepe and Ronaldo have those tendencies as well. It’s simply part of the way that they play the game. The referee’s, I believe, know better than we fans the style of the players they ref. So, sit back and enjoy the fun of being fans of two of the best teams in the world.

  9. It would definitely be hard to dislike Barcelona if all a person had to go on was reading raving articles from the media and watching 40 second youtube clips of Messi’s goals and statistics of how many passes Xavi and Iniesta completed. But if you pay attention to the consistent displays of unsportsmanlike behaviour – the diving, the swarming of the referee and the waving of hands to get a player carded (which, all of the Spanish are seemingly guilty of, Madrid included), the racist remark from Busquets, the holier than thou attitude that is so clearly present whenever Xavi speaks about how ‘football loses’ whenever Barcelona loses – and suddenly, to me at least, it becomes very very easy to dislike them.

    I’m not ignorant to the fact that they are the best team, consisting of some of the best players in the world at the moment, but I don’t have to like them or turn a blind eye to all the disgusting behaviour from their camp, or the fact that they get a ridiculous amount of help from referees. The latter doesn’t negate the former, but it sure as hell is frustrating to see a lot of the media ignore and brush aside their antics.

    • I don tknow if you are new to watching the sports or not but you must ahve been living under a rock if you think Barca’s antics are ignored.
      This myth that the Spanish are the only ones to crowd the ref, and dive is the biggest load of sh*t I’ve seen for the past couple of years.
      Just watch a Manchester United match or a Chelsea match and there is enough diving, crowding the ref and general disgusting behaviour to go around.

      How exactly are people turning a blind eye to “disgusting behaviour” when, a match cant pass without some allegations of a cheating from some fan or “analyst” or the other in EVERY media outlet you can think of is laid on Barcelona players, coaches, fans and even their children. You, yourself are bringing it up.

      The real question is why do you feel the need to highlight this percieved “disgusting behaviour”? Barcelona players have never professed to be houlier than thou or all that is good with football..where you get that idea, I dont know. YOU seem to be making up things in your head to justify your jealousy (thats the only reason I can think of to explain your off-base criticisms).

      I’ve never seen these consistent displays of unsportmanlike behavior. Though, Barcelona are not perfect, and have never professed to be, they are one of the more refreshing teams when it comes to sportsmanlike behaviour. Yes, there is a few instances where players exaggerate contact or wave cards and crowd the ref but there is nothing excessively different from all other football teams in world football today.

      People should get over trying to demonize Barcelona.

      • I think people should get over demonizing most teams, not just Barca. Different styles and philosophical approaches to the game, that’s all most teams are producing.

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