THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD …… THAT YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
It is 06.15PM. The temperature is a cold 9°C or 48°F if you prefer the Yankee way. The pitch is pristine. 80000+ people baying for the blood of the claret & blue hue. The referee blows his whistle. The Brazilian hears this and kicks the ball to the Uruguayan masticator and the clock starts winding up from 0:00. The Uruguayan passes it to the Catalan. The Welshman opponent, big, fast and strong, steams in to dispossess the Catalan so that he can continue his run and give his side the most spectacular of starts in one of the hallowed turfs on the planet.
The space is condensing. The lanky Catalan is fighting a losing battle. The ball is in space. The Welshman’s eyes light up. There are less than 10 paces to the penalty box. El Jefecito and Mr. Shakira are too far apart. Surely there is only one thing the scrawny Catalan can do: pass it to the pocket-sized Catalan on the left. All the Welshman needs to do is stretch his leg, intercept and leave everyone behind in his booster rocket feet’s wake. The Catalan moves his right leg as though to pass but drags the ball back. The Welshman cannot believe it. He has built up too much momentum and becomes the new tenant of the real estate previously inhabited by the ball. He could not have looked more foolish. It was like colourizing Billy Wright’s “fire engine rushing to the wrong fire” tackle of the most magical of the Magic Magyars: Ferenc Puskas. Yet another scalp added to the catalogue of dunces by the cerebral Sergio Busquets Burgos.
Busquets has none of the qualities expected from a typical defensive midfielder. He is slow, a poor tackler and, worst of all, a lightweight. The only thing that Busquets has that is expected in a modern volante is height. What he does have is a sixth sense about where the ball is going to be. He has an innate ability to see what is going to happen about 10-12 seconds before it unfolds ergo he is always in the place where the ball is going to be. He is not unlike Wayne Gretzky that way. Just like the father of modern Barcelona, Johan Cruijff, he starts running earlier to intercept the ball and therefore seems fast.
The presence of attacking fullbacks like Alves and Alba (or even slightly defensive Abidal or Maxwell previously) means that the Barcelona centerbacks play wider than a typical centerback pairing. They are in essence auxiliary fullbacks. This huge gap is a dream come true for centre forwards but teams have very rarely been able to exploit this flaw simply because Busquets performs the role of an auxiliary centreback caulking the backline.
Busquets outclasses nearly every single volante in this range of passing. His vision in the final third is second to none. His defensive duties do not give him the freedom to get forward a lot but in the few times he does get near the penalty are or inside the box Busquets hardly puts a foot wrong. It would not be wrong to say his array of passing and vision is in Xaviniesta territory. It is no coincidence that the Vicente Del Bosque wants to put Busquets in Xavi’s position.
In a sense, Busquets has redefined the position of the modern defensive midfielder. What sets him apart from other classical defensive midfielders is his movement when Barcelona are in possession. Barcelona’s centerbacks are encouraged to bring the ball out of the back instead of hacking it into the stands. Whenever they are pressed into a corner Busquets is perennially available as an outlet. His utter lack of anxiety on the ball means he turns defense into attack with simple pirouettes and flicks.
Vicente Del Bosque, himself a defensive midfielder who played for Real Madrid with distinction, describes his volante perfectly “You watch the game you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets and you see the whole game.” A perfect description of the perfect volante.