The Player With No Error
Pep Guardiola: “If I was reincarnated as a player, I’d like to be him.”
Pacho Maturana: “For me he is the best player in the world. He never plays badly, he always solves all the problems.”
Vincente del Bosque: “If I was a footballer, I would like to be him.”
These three quotes are reminiscent of the constant praise that surrounds the greatest player of our generation, Lionel Messi, however these high profile footballing managers are referring to another player, one of Messi’s teammate in Sergio Busquets. Only when you watch Busquets week in week out do you truly understand his subtle and undeniable qualities. His preciseness of movement, passing and positioning allows him to dictate the game from deep but his ruthless efficiency and effortless persona means he goes unnoticed. In this position, similar to Michael Carrick in his prime at United, there seems to be a correlation between the praise and notice you get and how fantastic and invisible you are on the pitch. You might recall a few years ago in the Champions League; Barcelona was 2-0 down to AC Milan after the first leg and took an unassailable deficit back to the Camp Nou. Barcelona went on to win 4-0 in a memorable night of scintillating football, where Lional Messi unsurprisingly took most of the headlines. However the real master class came from Sergio Busquets. Busquets recorded a pass completion of 100% which doesn’t even attempt to tell the full story. His work rate was faultless, his range of passing impeccable and his execution unerring. If anyone wants to learn how to play the role of Deep Lying Playmaker Role (CDM) just watch that game and focus all your attention on Sergio, on and off the ball.
Admittedly it is not hard to outline a particular game for which a top-level player has excelled in. The brilliance of Busquets is that he churns out performances similar to that most weekends. His pass completion in La Liga in 2014 was 92%. As a comparison, in the Premier League in the same year, Nemanja Matic completed 88% of his passes with Chelsea going on to win the league. Even so, Busquets plays at a much higher tempo, more forward passes and has more complexity to his passing variation which entails more risk of error with all his passes. Such consistency without taking any headlines is what makes him invaluable for Barcelona, and was the reason Pep Guardiola got rid of a then well establish star in Yaya Toure in his maiden season in charge. Ray Hudson said on commentary about his consistency, “Busquets cannot win the ‘Man of the Match’ award because he is the Man of the Match in every single game he plays, his is that good.”
I’m fully aware of the elephant in the room; the accusation that he is a diver and plays referees. The image of him looking through his fingers at the ref while rolling around on the floor often taints his reputation and overrides the real qualities that Busquets possesses. There is a point to be made about this side of his game, however it should not be blown out of proportion. He is the man in the Barcelona side that does the so-called ‘dirty work’ and although I disagree that he is a diver, perhaps he does milk the odd challenge (which seems to be a regular occurrence in the modern game). You might see him surrounding the referee after a decision because that is his job. Every team does the same thing. He has to act as a protector; with Barcelona’s quality up front and their style of play, players like Neymar (who suffered over 200 fouls last season) are prone to being targeted and hacked all game. Busquets of course will stand up for his players and ask for the referee’s protection, with players such as Messi and Neymar being worth protecting from unnecessary amounts of violent play.
To conclude, Busquets has a subtlety and elegance in his play which I enjoy watching every time I sit down to watch Barcelona. I would urge everyone who enjoys football just for one game to watch him; watch his movement, passing, leadership and work rate which are all at a level to firmly place him in the world-class player category. He isn’t a footballer – he is a composer. He dictates the orchestra around him and controls the tempo of the whole composition. A lovely quote from Vicente del Bosque sums it up for me. “You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game.” Everyone has their off day for sure, but for me when he is on sync, he is the player with no error.
By Guy Harper