Sergio Busquets, our mercurial midfielder, is a much-maligned figure in the minds of many Barcelona fans. They say he can’t play DM at the Camp Nou because he’s not good enough and he makes too many mistakes. That he’s deficient in the key aspects of the game and is the most expendable man we have. Well, nuts to that. This seems a strange take for a player who started 26 games for the La Liga champions and all 7 games for World Cup champions Spain, of whom manager Vincente del Bosque noted, “if I was a footballer, I would like to be Busquets.” (Lest we forget that the likes of Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff has lavished even more praise.) Oh, and lest I mention the 7 pieces of silverware to his name and being named as La Liga’s breakthrough player of 2009. Thus far, Biscuits & Gravy has made quite a name for himself on the world’s best national team and one of, if not the best, club teams around. But why does out fan base doubt the 22-year old star? This article endeavors to deconstruct our newest star, and determine just what to make of his past, and the future.
His dad played for Barça, so Busquets gets the benefit of the doubt: A startlingly common misconception about Busquets is that because his father Carles was a member of some 1990s FCB squads (and has been named our new goalkeeping coach, good for him), he gets a free pass. No, just stop. This ignores the argument, somehow more patently ludicrous than this, that Busquets only retains his starting role with Barcelona so that he will not lose the position for the Spanish national team. Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me?
There are a number of reasons that this argument is deficient, not the least of which that it assumes that our club, and Manager Pep Guardiola, place no premium on merit and rather hand out favors based on old allegiances and grandfather clauses. This is obviously true, because Jordi Cruyff is having a budding career with the team right? FC Barcelona does not hand out starting positions on the team, or any positions for that matter, because of lineage or any other spurious reason. Pep brings in his players and starts them. If you don’t believe me, look no further than Samuel Eto’o, a long-time fan favorite, who was booted for being a clubhouse cancer and a bit of a baby. Of course you could also look to this past year when Thierry Henry (he of the winning every major trophy ever) was benched for poor play in favor of Pedro, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic who let some poor play go to his head, and was subsequently removed in favor of Bojan, even though Ibra is paid 5 times as much. Exterior factors, no matter their nature, seem to play little in the choice of a player to start. Such arguments should have no place in enlightened football conversation. Next.
He’s a flopper, I mean, just look at that .gif: You’re better than this, come on. Does Sausage Biscuit dive sometimes? Yes. However, that does not diminish his qualities while playing the field. This is a painfully poor excuse to claim that because he made a few high-profile gaffs, notably against Villareal and Inter Milan, his game is deficient in any way, shape or form. Even if he were the single worst flopper in the history of the game (which he’s not, since you know, Italy still exists and all that), it still would not take away from his excellent play.
Don’t even start with how it is an embarrassment to the club or whatever either. Does Messi disgrace the shield when he shoots instead of making obvious passes? How about Xavi, does he make a mockery when he kicks the ball at a defender standing too close on a free kick, gaining a yellow and mental advantage? What of Dani Alves, is he made into a pariah for running off at the mouth at all times? I didn’t think so. Players flop and try to “game the system” a lot, and sometime it hurts the game, but they are not run out of town on a rail, or thrown under the bus simply because, are they? No, and if they were, then Iniesta’s going to have to take his ball and go home too.
He screws up… a lot: First of all, yes, he does make mistakes, and they sometimes get played up more than other–his red card against Madrid in the first Clasico of last year was indefensible. However, he does not make near the volume of mistakes that he is charged with by many fans. Further, when he does make mistakes, he seems to learn from them by the next game, evolving his game to adapt to the holes it has. During Spain’s first World Cup game against Switzerland, Busquets had an awful game. He was subbed over at the 60th minute after being complicit in N’kufo’s goal, and rightly so. After the game, the same calls came out: “play Cesc, he’s more creative!”; “Busquets can’t hold Senna’s shoes”; “where’s the jelly for my Biscuits?”. Vincent of the Forest rightly stuck with our DM though, and he showed his class from there on out. He served as the defensive possessor that allowed 1 more goal during the final six games, and shut down the likes of Arjen Robben and the German midfield machine, to the point that when it came time for substitutes, Alonso was coming off, with Sergi left as the lone holder. I’m just saying.
Won’t somebody please think of the Yaya?: And here’s your real reason. Ok, look, we got it. Yaya Toure is a good player. He’s tall, fast, and imposing on the field. He can score in a pinch and play 4 or 5 positions. Fan favorite and all that jazz, it makes sense. Fans attach themselves to certain players for any number of reasons: outstanding play, playing through pain, leading the team to an important victory, inexplicably liking a player above others, etc., and it is reasonable to expect this for a great number of players, but when a capable player is there to serve as a replacement, it makes less sense to dump on that player because you liked his predecessor more.
Toure is extremely capable and starred for the side in many ways, but he’s no Messi, or Iniesta, or Valdes, or even Pedro. Hell, the best comparison player for Yaya last year was Ibrahimovic. Both players have great skill (although Ibra is more talented), both players have the capacity to take over games (albeit in different ways), and both players suffered through poor spells at different times and to varying degrees. Yet, Zlatan serves as the proverbial piñata for Barça fans while Toure acted as sort of a Teflon Don. The domineering DM does a lot of things well, but he also acted as a clubhouse cancer for some 2 years with his agents constant bickering and fights with the board since he thought he deserved to start every game ever. (And please, don’t disrespect everyone’s intelligence by saying this was all his agent’s fault, because the agent speaks for the player, and Yaya made it abundantly clear that he needed to go play with his brother, soon.) This does not even mention the fact that he lost his starting spot, not because Pep likes Busquets more, but because Yaya would take large parts of games off, lazing around the pitch and allowing through balls causing defensive lapses. It was not an every game thing, but he definitely let off-field concerns get in the way of his play many times. Not to mention that when you are offered 30+ million euros for a DM you bought for less than half that, you take it when you have a more than capable stand-in.
Some of these reasons are reasonable, although less than compelling. Missing players gone by or disliking a player’s style is fine, but when this translates into fanciful and deficient analysis of that player’s game, well, you’ve missed the mark all together. So then you ask, “well, why should I like Busquets?” Glad you asked.
Why you should love him, or, just not loathe him so much: Busquets serves as a combo holder and possessor while in the DM role for Barcelona (and La Furia Roja for that matter), meaning that he is tasked with possibly the most important, and underrated position on the field. As such he is tasked with short, quick passes between Pique/Puyol and Xavi/forward players as well as moving into the middle back when Abidal, Alves, Maxwell, and Adriano bomb forward so that our two center backs may split out (arguably Toure’s greatest quality), holding possession while not giving the ball away in key situations, amongst many other responsibilities. Suffice to say, it’s a varied role that requires an excellent player, and Busquets is just that. Here are 3 more reasons you might like our La Masia product:
Man Marking: The Big Biscuit is nothing if not annoying. But on the field, that’s a good thing. During the World Cup Final, he so thoroughly frustrated Golden Ball and World Player of the Year candidate Wesley Sneijder, that the Oranje dangerman’s role was reduced to a couple of good passes with very little of the match dictation that made him so dangerous at Inter this past year. He also serves to get in the heads of opposing players, causing them to fall off their game. Say what you will about Busquets .gif-worthy performance, but he so fully enrages opposing players through dogged pursuit on and off the ball that punches, cards, and hard fouls now seem commonplace. As the wonderful Zonal Marking noted: Busquets marking likely changed the entire course of the game, by staying with Sneijder, and occasionally Robben, he forced the Dutch from their normal game and into something much less formidable. His stellar play in the second Clasico more than made up for his stupidity in the first, as he so thoroughly stifled any midfield creativity for Real Madrid for much of that game as well. In short, he’s a defensive counterweight to opposition forces as well as holding the lines when other players are marauding forward in the run of play (and let’s be honest, that basically everyone on the team except Puyol).
Possession and Passing: During the World Cup, a lot of ink was spilled, and rightly so, on the virtues of Xavi’s exquisite long and short passing. But another underrated aspect, one that I believe showed up on Brian Phillips’ Run of Play Twitter feed, was that Sergio, while usually only making short passes, does so with incredible accuracy, completing something like 39 of 40 during the first half of the Germany match, but that he is sometimes faulted because the passes are so short. Well, that’s what he’s been asked to do, and he does it because that’s what the systems require.
He has been known to hold the ball too long and give it away in dangerous situations, although these occurrences are made into mountains more by the fan base than they actually should be. He spends time on the ball, usually gaining the second or third most touches on the team, behind Xavi and Messi, and passing out of trouble when it occurs.
Positional Awareness: Biscuits also displays good positional awareness in terms of cutting off player runs, staying with opposing mids/forwards, and moving into proper position to receive passes from both front and back. Again, this is not to say he does not make mistakes, he certainly does. But tying the previous two points together we find that #16 sets himself up in excellent position either while marking, providing passes, or opening up lanes to receive passes.
Rarely moving so far up the pitch that he is grossly ill-positioned, Busquets is able to provide defensive support and take some of the considerable heat off of Pique and Puyol when they are left to face the counter-attacks that most teams rely on against the blaugrana. While Xavi receives numerous plaudits for spacing and moving without the ball, and again, they are deserved, Biscuits is not all that far behind, he just can’t look as good doing it–hey, we can’t all be the best midfielder of our generation.
Conclusions: The point here is not to say that Sergio Busquets should somehow remain immune from criticism for his play. On the contrary, when appropriate, it is deserved and should be noted as vigorously as against any other player on the team. Nor is the point to say that we do not need to bring in some depth at DM, far from it. The boardroom, Pep, and others involved should look at our team, look at our youth system and determine if we need to purchase a player like Javi Martinez, or go it with Oriol Romeu, or stick with Adriano as a do-all backup and Keita.
It is intended to hopefully stem some of the tide of ill-founded criticism that Busquets faces on these boards and from fans in general. A lot of this was tongue-in-cheek, and I realize that, but it is all true. Busquets is an integral cog in the Barça system, and especially for Pep Guardiola. The loss of Toure was hard for some here, but the scorn heaped on Sergio is laughable, especially since roughly 97.35% of it falls into the 3 categories above, or is general griping aimed specifically at one player.
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