By John Cartwright

LIONEL MESSI, has just received, for the third consecutive year, FIFA’s Player of the Year Award – and he thoroughly deserves every one of them. Along with MESSI, in the Barcelona team, there are several other players, such as XAVI, INIESTA, ALVES etc. who are also star players and equally deserve praise for their outstanding playing qualities. Also, on the sideline, PEP. GUARDIOLA, has received the FIFA, coach of the Year Award. Once again, nobody should be surprised considering the success he has had over the past few years; he has developed and nurtured a brilliant football team that is a joy to watch.

The brilliance of FC Barcelona, is not down to one or two players, it is about the combination of all their individually skilful players that has been so awe-inspiring –and so different! Many ex star players consider the present Barcelona displays as the best football they have ever seen; even better than the Brazilian World Cup winners of the past!  The present Barcelona style of play has brought hope back to the game. Their football has ignored the ‘kick and rush’ methods that have gained such a foothold on the game here as well as in many other countries and shown that there is another and more attractive and effective way to play.

A player who is central to Barcelona’s success but who receives far less notice or accolades is SERGIO BUSQUETS. For me, this player demonstrates a unique playing ability; he is a true ‘Total Footballer’. From his central role in the team’s formation, he provides both attacking and defensive qualities that allows the system to function so smoothly. His playing discipline and complete understanding of his role, provides the hub for the team’s impressive, offensive positional interchanges – whilst others leave gaps on their forward ‘excursions’, it is BUSQUETS, who covers the space(s) they have vacated. But it is not just defensively that he is so important, his ability to link play and make the occasional break forward himself reflects a tremendous all-round playing talent.

BUSQUETS, the tall, multi-talented, mid-field sentinel, has become the epitomy of Barcelona’s playing method; one minute he may be duelling for a ball in the air in his own penalty area and then in a few moments, be making a crucial tackle or a defence-splitting pass in mid-field. But his ability does not stop here, for he has individual playing qualities that provide goals for others as well as himself whenever an opportunity to move into more advanced attacking positions arises.

Too often players like BUSQUETS, are denied the recognition that their talent, discipline and playing intellect deserves. Let it be known that PREMIER SKILLS is all about the obvious qualities of all the  players in the Barcelona squad, but one has to ask, would it all function so well without the brilliance of the ‘silent sentinel’, SERGIO BUSQUETS, at the heart of it?


  1. Sergio Busquets, perhaps the most underated footballer on the planet and yet he NEVER gives the ball away. Over here in this genius football country he is a hated figure because of the way he goes down clutching his face when hardly touched. But abroad its part of the culture to fein injury as over here it is part of the culture to kick players, hence Wayne Rooney in Euro 2012 qualifier.

    I feel Busquets; so called negavtive antics (which cant actually hurt anyone physically they way an over agressive British tackle can) form the opinion that he is a so and so and not very good. But as you say John his positional ability without the ball when Barca have the ball or if the opposition have the ball is just unmatched and often makes the Steven Gerrard look the most indiciplined midfielder EVER.

    But with the Busquets is also brilliant. Xavi described him as the best one touch passer in the world.

  2. Hi Dav. One touch is a very difficult skill; only the very highest quality player has the ability to play the ball off in this way — they have to because they are usually in the thick of the action and marked tightly. Busquets has the ability to recognize the various situations that crop up and use ALL his playing skills accordingly. We have nothing to compare to him in this country — there again we don’t have anything to match any of the Barcelona squad —- goalkeeper included (on delivery of the ball over all distances from hands and feet)

    • CORRECTION to my last paragraph: But with the ball Busquets is also brilliant. Xavi described him as the best one touch passer in the world.

      Again John I agree with your reply. Often when Busquets receives the ball he is right in the thick of it, the middle of the park. Here I see him time and time produces the following skills WITH THE BALL.
      – 1 touch passes to feet or into space
      – Correct speed of pass
      – Brilliant two touch play
      – Receiving with the back foot (either foot) (touch move)
      – Awareness before calling for the ball and while a pass is travelling to him and thus playing in the future
      – 1 touch turns to change the direction of the attack
      – Gets his body sandwiched in-between the ball and DF to win FK’s and keep possession
      – 1 touch flick passes with ground or aerial balls while being physically challenged.
      – And on the odd occasion he does have the odd feint up his sleeve. On Wednesday in Madrid with the game won, he dropped his right shoulder with the perfect amount of upper body exaggeration, the challenging Madrid player lost balance and fell. The British commentators failed to acknowledge this wonderful trick.

      I also agree with your brief comment about goal keepers. As a Liverpool fan (now a little disillusioned Liverpool fan) I have long been praising Pepe Reina’s ability with the ball. During the 2008/09 season when Liverpool finished 2nd and went very close to the title Pepe Reina was instrumental. He assisted goals/counter attacks in various ways due to his distribution skills.
      – the low trajectory volley from the hands towards Kuyt, Torres and Riera just after defending a set play
      – throws to the same players again to launch counter attacks
      – low under arm ground passes in a crowded box to players just outside his box (regarded as risky business here in the UK)
      – passes from his feet, low and aerial passes
      Often his brilliant distribution came on counter attacks after set-plays which shows as a GK his brilliant (courageous) ability to think so quickly just after catching/saving/gathering a ball in a crowded physical penalty area.

      However I feel Victor Valdes has taken it to another level. Like Reina his throwing is top class but his ability with his feet even when teams try to press Barca is just unmatched hence why the pressing tactic has never really worked for Real against Barca (bar the 1 goal earlier this season). When a team does press Barca and they have to go back to Victor he often can play various passes past/over the opposition who are now higher up the pitch.
      – He plays the low punched pass into the midfielder’s feet,
      – Chipped passes over the oncoming pressure to the Barca midfielders
      – and aerial curled passes around the pressure into wide players

      Every Barca player is just so so comfortable in possession in various parts of the pitch in various situations, i.e. Eric Abidal’s goal on Wednesday evening, a left back in the box bringing the ball down off his chest into the correct place to set-up one more touch, the composed finish past Iker Cassilas, another keeper capable with his feet.

      Our GK’s are so behind in terms of distribution simply because at grass roots level they are taught to clear the ball or their defenders never ever pass the ball back to them due to the one directional straight line play so they never get the opportunity. Another example that the game is being played with FEAR. Using the keeper, playing your way out of tight pressure situations in your penalty area is a game for the BRAVE, however over here it is termed as risky football.

      So in essence everyone starts a match with 11 on the field but FC BARCELONA play the game 11v10!

      • Please dont level accusations at grassroots football. Most academy players are plucked from grassroots by the time they are 10 or 11 these days. Its the academy system that is failing. If young English goalkeepers dont have good distribution skills, look at the academy coaching system.
        I see plenty of grassroots goalkeepers who dont hoof it long and defenders that will pass the ball back to their keeper.

  3. I have noticed that a number of teams are copying a tactic which Barcelona have used for some time now, and in which Busquets is a central figure. When the keeper gets the ball the two central defenders split wide, about the width of the penalty area apart. The two full backs push up high and wide on the flanks. Then the central midfield player, Busquets in the case of Barcelona, drops into the space between the two centre backs,usually a little further forward of them, to receive a pass from the keeper to this feet. This player finds himself in space,created by the movement of the back players, and a swift attack,exploiting this space, is set in motion. I have noticed Liverpool do this, with Adam in the Busquets role, and Swansea.
    We therefore can see that the old thinking of the players in the back line always being the same distance apart, as if joined together by a length of rope,and being dragged from side to side across the pitch, is no longer valid.

    • blimey aus teaches u12 as part of the national curriculm for central defenders to splt and full backs push on and the def mid to come and be an option to collect.

  4. Steve wrote:
    ” I have noticed Liverpool do this, with Adam in the Busquets role, and Swansea.
    We therefore can see that the old thinking of the players in the back line always being the same distance apart, as if joined together by a length of rope,and being dragged from side to side across the pitch, is no longer valid.”

    Hi Steve hope you are well.

    Note also Brighton & Hove Albion use the same approach – Greer and Dunk split with FB pushed on and Liam Bridcutt takes the role to come and collect occasionally (but they weren’t so good on TV the other evening!)
    To add to the pot, Albion will also occasionally get the CB to run the ball out; so when opposition think they are set, someone has to come to the ball eventually and the cover and balance is affected allowing Albion CB to pass and join in with cover rotating in behind.

    So far as the ‘length of rope’ analogy is concerned, I always thought that was just about defending with opponent in possession anyway, rather than throughout the game.

  5. Hi Steve

    Mauro Silva did this for Brazil I think in ’94, as for copying Barcelona I think that many know about this as has been mentioned; and as for the piece of rope, as Steve the Seagull says it is for defending!

  6. I have looked at old recordings of Brazil’s matches in the 1994 World Cup and their centre backs did not split as has been suggested above. They kept a tight defensive unit at all times with Mauro Silva playing a ‘screen’ role just in front of them as a defensive measure.
    I am not saying that Barcelona “invented” the new role for the holding player with their use of Busquets, but as with many other innovations they give old ideas a new slant. For many years the holding player, or screen as he was originally referred to, was purely a tough-tackling, defensive player. The first player I personally recall in this role was Nobby Stiles with England in 1966. Such a player, with solely destructive qualities, would be obsolete today at the top level. But he is still found in many teams at lower levels in England, and some not such low levels, and is another indicator of our slowness to properly adapt to new methods.
    On that theme, I am interested to read the correspondance from the Australian coach when he observes that the ‘Barcelona way’ of playing out from the back is basic to the coach education given to coaches of school under 12 teams in his country. It certainly isn’t here, from my experience, and gives rise to further concern for the long-term development of young players in this country.

  7. What we fail to recognize about this role is the importance of this player being so all-round with his/her playing ability. When defending, this player becomes anyone in the defence and must be capable of performing all the necessary responses involved with defensive play. Equally, this player must be able to rejoin attacking play when required to do so and contribute creatively to his team’s offensive qualities. That is why i have called Busquets, a ‘TOTAL PLAYER’, We have nothing to compare with him because our football thinking is still back in the dark ages unfortunately — how different it could be with more imagination within our development structure.

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