Who’s Favorite Player was Busquets? No One and Everyone

Whenever people ask who my top five favorite players of all-time are, the answer is easy. It’s Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Thierry Henry, and either Ronaldinho or Dennis Bergkamp, I could never decide. Those were players that got me out of my seat, and while of course I celebrate the winning, to me that’s not watch it’s become my life. Football has become such a large part of my life because of all the moments in-between, the pass to set up the pass for the goal, the passion and organization of a good press, a well-drawn up play from a throw-in even. Show your superiority in all the moments leading up to the goals, and make those special true, and maybe win some trophies, and you’ll have a fan in me. Sergio Busquets has checked all of those boxes for 15 years, and yet, because he was surrounded by other legends of the game, I promise that his significance will be forgotten if Culers let it.

It’s hard to make Busquets highlight reels. There are the tricks and such, but those are in the blink of an eye, and usually followed by a 10-15 yard pass to somebody close by. A pass under duress is more impressive of course, but a 10-yard pass 60 meters from goal is still going to look like a 10-yard pass to most watching. Most will pick up on the quality it takes to handle pressure, but more often we talk about the times when players can’t handle the pressure. It’s one of the reasons why it took most Culers 3 months to figure out that Andreas Christensen has been such a huge player for Barcelona with the ball as much as without.

I came up in football just a bit earlier than those who came up idolizing the 2008-2011 edition of Barcelona, but I can tell that no one that I was around ever talked about becoming the next great Demetrio Albertini, Claude Makelele, Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, or Gennaro Gattuso. Defensive midfielder is not a fun position for kids to emulate, and a large part of that is due to the tactical nuance of the position. Sure, there are out and out wingers and there are inverted wingers, but a winger gets to the top by either scoring or assisting goals, and the top top ones do both. For the CDMs, it’s a lot more about your function in the team and how well you protect your backline, the group that usually gets the credit for keeping the opponent out of your net.

Yet, we can see that the true majesty of the icon Barca teams in the 21st century best through the eyes of Busquets. Of course, as Vicente Bosque famously said, “You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game.” And it wasn’t just one game, it was every game. Busquets missed a grand total of 18 games due to injury over the course of his illustrious career – that’s bananas. Even this season, he ranks on the team in minutes behind only ter Stegen, Lewandowski, Gavi, and Kounde. Durability is something we don’t talk enough about in football, well, only in the bad ways like with Dembele and Pedri – but not as a skill or talent or something to be admired. Busquets showed up for work and usually played 90 minutes of football once or twice a week for 15 years.

But it’s still doing him a disservice to focus just on his availability. I’ll keep calling him the most influential defensive midfielder in history – I find that to be a safer conclusion than just calling him the best. But Pep Guardiola and his midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta get credited quite a bit with solving football – being at the core of a project that took the game to new tactical heights than it had ever seen before. Pushing the ideas of Jack Reynolds and Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff to new heights, with Buquets literally at the center of it all.

But his technique, skill, and tactical awareness is why I call him the most influential DM in history. He was like something that football fans had never seen before at the position, and the likes of Marcos Senna for Spain, and Yaya Toure and Javier Mascherano for Barca knew it was his spot. The argument of replacing him is all about replicating what he has done so well and still does at the highest of levels, to the point where anybody who tries to look around to find the “next Busquets”, will fail without fail.

Has anyone been better with their technique on 25 yard or more long balls in the last 15 years? Has anyone been better at receiving between centre-backs and dictating the tempo of a game? Has anyone consistently won the ball the way that he has for those years? You can point to moments with him, especially over the last few years, where those statements aren’t true – but like Messi, Busquets’ legendary status comes from his longevity. He was one of the best longer than everyone else, to the point where Culers are left wondering if another player will be able to do what the 34-year-old did just thing year for the team.

And while things have been frustrating for the last few seasons, I will remind you that Busquets is one of the winningest players of all-time. He has 31 trophies just for FC Barcelona. 8 La Liga, 3 Champions Leagues, 3 FIFA Club World Cups, 3 UEFA Super Cups, 7 Copa del Reys, and 7 Spanish Super Cups. That kind of winning doesn’t happen, and that kind of winning warped what Culers expected from their club. He leaves as captain of a place where played over 700 official games, putting him on a short-list with Messi and Xavi as a reminder of his longevity and importance.

I’m not sure how in the cards this was when it was decided, but the season culminating in one of the more meaningful friendlies that we’ve seen in some time is pretty interesting, taking place on June 6th. Unfortunately the team is traveling to Japan, but it’ll be Iniesta’s last professional game playing for Vissel Kobe, Busquets’ likely last appearance for Barca, and Xavi as manager of Barca.

There will be more time to jump into the stats, the necessity of sending legends off into the sunset, the choices and possibility of replacing, next year’s captain, and much more, but I just wanted to make sure before we do any of that, we raise our glass to one of the all-time greats. Moltes gracias Sergio Busquets and Forca Barca!