Sergio Busquets is only 31-years-old and still one of the greatest defensive midfielders of his generation. Yet, like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta before him, there will come a time when Barcelona will need to replace the club legend. When it comes to the group of Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi, and Busquets, the midfielder may still have the greatest longevity of the bunch. All that said, the midfield spots at Barcelona are the engine that make the Blaugrana system possible. With Arthur and Frenkie de Jong already lined up to be two of the future three in the middle, replacing Busquets is a long-term project that the club must already be considering.
Arthur and de Jong were not raised in La Masia, but they were both certainly brought up with Barcelona connections. Arthur arrived at Gremio as a 14-year-old and got his footballing education at the same academy that produced Ronaldinho. de Jong rose to prominence with Ajax after coming from Willem II. The fingerprints of Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels remain on every aspect of Dutch football, and de Jong’s game is no different. This understanding of so much of the methodology of La Masia has allowed their transition to be easier than some of their contemporaries. The long-term replacement for Busquets will need to have the attributes to play as if he was from La Masia, but how possible is it for Barcelona to strike gold three times?
Replacing Busquets won’t be an issue if de Jong is seem as the long-term replacement. That said, Barcelona would be wise not to lose the Dutch maestro’s ability to dribble through lines and get involved with the attack in the ways that he does. de Jong should have the freedom to pick up the ball in deep positions without all of the responsibility of a defensive midfielder. These runs shouldn’t be kept in front of the back four.
If de Jong is not Busquets’ replacement, the club still needs that player to have the understanding of a La Masia product or player with similar technical and mental acumen. Rumors this week linked Stade Rennais’ Eduardo Camavinga to every major club, including Barcelona. The 17-year-old defensive midfielder who is putting Ligue 1 on notice is a fantastic young talent, but why would the Blaugrana look outward before looking inward?
For a number of years, Sergi Samper was the heir-apparent at the defensive midfield spot. However, a combination of injuries and failed loans derailed his career. The next potential successor has been Oriol Busquets, who is currently out on loan at Twente. Like Samper, Busquets dealt with injuries as a teenager, though not nearly as many as his fellow Catalan. Unlike Samper, the 20-year-old is getting time at Twente, playing as a defensive midfielder and most recently as a centre-back in the last three fixtures. At this point the jury is still out on whether or not Oriol Busquets can reach the heights required of a Barcelona first team player, but the big IF of his future means that Barcelona need back-up plans.
Instead of moving for another 17-year-old, and no disrespect to Camavinga who is playing first team football, Barcelona should look within. 19-year-old Jandro Orellana has made a few appearances for Barcelona B and looks to be a year or two away, but still a player with huge potential. While not a defensive midfielder by trade, Ilaix Moriba is only two months younger than Camavinga and still growing, both physically and as a player. After featuring at the U-17 World Cup, Moriba will return to Catalonia and feature for both Barcelona B and the Juvenil A.
Timing is everything. Sergio Busquets isn’t ready to take a lesser role just yet, and his decline could time out perfectly with the return of Oriol Busquets. If he is only a temporary solution, that could match up with the ascension of Orellana or Moriba. Including Riqui Puig and Carles Aleñá, it feels like Barcelona already have their midfield of the future. As one generation ages out, the Blaugrana can spend in areas of need, but looking within for the midfield isn’t a bad idea.