The barrio boy who hit the big time

IF Pep Guardiola is a student of Johann Cruyff, then Sergio Busquets is a student of Guardiola. The defensive midfielder, who divides opinion outside Spain, played under Guardiola in his one season as Barça’s B team boss in 2007-08.

“It was a great experience because we’d been relegated to Tercer (the fourth level),” says Busquets. “It’s not like now, when the team are in Segunda A (second level). Pep was manager and we’d go to little Catalan towns where everyone wants to shoot you down because you played for Barca. I remember one game at Rapitenca in a tiny stadium in the south of Catalonia near the Ebro Delta. The people were shouting all kinds of abuse at us, as were the other players. Most of us were 18, 19, playing against 34-year-old men who wished they’d played for Barca.

“It didn’t intimidate me. I don’t mind that part of the game. I quite like an aggressive match — I’m from a barrio so I was not scared playing down there, but some of the other players were nervous after the first challenges went in.”

Busquets is the Barcelona barrio boy come good. “We’re from a very humble barrio close to Sabadell (15 miles from Barcelona) and we all still live there,” he says. “There are no pretensions where I’m from.”

Sabadell’s side used to play in the first division themselves and they are chasing promotion to the second division this weekend, but like many in the former textiles city which used to be known as the Catalan Manchester, young Sergio was a Barça fan.

“Figo was my hero,” he says. “Then he joined Madrid. Barca fans hated him for that. It was impossible for him to be a hero any more, but now that I’m a professional, I see things differently. Players can’t really control where they go.”

Unlike anyone else in his barrio, Sergio’s dad Carlos played for Barça, chiefly as their long-time reserve goalkeeper, though he played in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final defeat to Manchester United and the 1994 European Cup final defeat against AC Milan.

“He would take me into the changing rooms and I remember meeting players like Rivaldo, Figo and Sergi. When current players bring in their kids, I always make a fuss of them because that was me not so long ago.”

Busquets still sees his dad in training every day as he’s Barça’s goalkeeping coach. His father instilled him with a set of lasting values.

“He taught me a lot about the mentality of being a good professional,” he says. “Work hard, listen to your coaches, don’t have a big ego. It sounds elementary, but I’ve seen some really talented kids leave Barca because they thought they had become a professional before they did. If you are not good in a group then you don’t have a place at Barca.”

Busquets Jnr has enjoyed a stellar career to date. Promoted to Barça’s first team by Guardiola in 2008, he’s since won three consecutive league titles and a European Cup. He’s also a World Cup winner with Spain. Now he has a second chance to win a Champions League.

“I am proud of being a very young player and in my second final,” he explains. “The manager says it could be our last and we have to enjoy it.”

Busquets thinks the game will be different from 2009.

“I don’t think you can compare the games — they have different players now to then, we do too. They have always been a strong side over the last few years; they have always been there. Not having Ronaldo hasn’t stopped them getting to the final.”

He sees United as problematic opponents.

“It’s hard to stop them,” he said. “Any of United’s players can cause you problems — Rooney, Chicharito, Valencia. And Fletcher: I played against him when he was playing for Scotland. I like him a lot but I have to try to get the better of him this time,” he smiles.

“In 2009, it was hard; it took a long time for us to get into the game. The second half was much better. But it was hard for a long time.”

While Barca fans are confident of another victory in the emphatic manner of Rome, Busquets isn’t so certain.

“I think the final will be decided on a small details,” he believes, “Look at the World Cup final, the Copa del Rey; there tend not to be many goals.”


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