Think you’ve seen a lot of Lionel Messi goals? You’ve got nothing on Sergio Busquets.
‘We have the good fortune to train with him every day,’ says the 30-year-old Barcelona midfielder. ‘I’ve spent the last 11 years with him, so you get that greater concentration of him doing these things.
‘We’re not quite as surprised by it all. There isn’t a goal he’s scored on the pitch that we haven’t seen in training and he’s also repeating goals he has scored in previous seasons. He is unique.’
Sergio Busquets and Barcelona take on Manchester United on Wednesday evening
The midfielder has won the Champions League three times during his playing career
He admitted that he had the good fortune to train alongside Lionel Messi every day
The last thing most players sitting down for an interview want to do is be asked about other players, but those at Barcelona never seem to mind being questioned about Messi, who scored his 33rd league goal of the season on Saturday against Atletico Madrid to all but seal his 10th and Busquets’ eighth La Liga title.
During Busquets’ time in the Barcelona first team, he has always had Messi alongside him. He has seen him go from the shy teenager to the club captain who took the microphone after a pre-season friendly last summer and told a packed Camp Nou the Champions League would be the club’s priority this season.
‘We didn’t know he was going to say that,’ says Busquets. ‘But all clubs want to do well in the Champions League don’t they? It’s the most prestigious trophy there is and it is even more important for us after having not won it for so many years.’
Busquets loves winning the Champions League: ‘It’s the most prestigious trophy there is’
The Barcelona man views not winning the Champions League for four years as a long time
By ‘so many years’ he means four — Barcelona beat Juventus 3-1 in the 2015 final in Berlin. It’s hardly decades of hurt but with Messi, Gerard Pique and Busquets as the spine of the team there is a sense that they should have won it more often — and that this is their year.
The good news for Manchester United is that, as he looks ahead to Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg at Old Trafford, Busquets, a veteran of two finals against United, admits the team hit its all-time high at Wembley in 2011.
‘It was the best performance in the Pep Guardiola era,’ Busquets says of the 3-1 win. ‘It was the pinnacle of everything we were achieving at the time.
‘It was a period when our success seemed at its most emphatic and that game was the perfect demonstration. The idea of how we wanted to play and our superiority on the pitch was clear. It was the ultimate highpoint.’
Busquets sat down with Sportsmail’s Pete Jenson to discuss the upcoming match
Busquets celebrates with Messi after winning the Champions League at Wembley in 2011
Barcelona midfielder Xavi would later confess that Wayne Rooney had told him with 10 minutes left: ‘That’s enough. You’ve won, you can stop playing the ball around now.’ Michael Carrick would also later admit it was the best football he had ever seen.
‘Sometimes you can feel that frustration from the other team when you are so on top,’ says Busquets. ‘We had prepared very well and caused them a lot of harm, just keeping the ball and with them running after it a lot.
‘That recognition from them afterwards — and we are talking about great players and a coach like Sir Alex Ferguson — it’s the highest praise you can receive.’
The 30-year-old was proud of the praise Barcelona received from United’s players and staff
Busquets, Messi and Pique are not the only Barcelona survivors from that afternoon. Eric Abidal played the final just two months after an operation to remove a tumour from his liver; he is now the club’s sporting director.
‘His recovery brought us strength,’ Busquets says. ‘It was very hard for the dressing room when we heard the news. I remember when he told us. His spirits were much higher than ours.
‘We were in a bad way and he was the one cheering us up saying that in next to no time he was going to be training and playing again. Thank God it turned out OK, his recovery changed the mood of the squad.’
Abidal came on for the last few minutes of the Champions League semi-final victory over Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid and then started the final against United, even lifting the trophy at the end.
He said Eric Abidal’s presence in the final after an operation had brought the team strength
‘He’d been out for a long time but we knew what Eric was capable of before the illness, physically he was a colossus, and then the decision to let him lift the trophy — that showed the solidarity and camaraderie in the group.’
Busquets must get nostalgic for those times when Barcelona were so dominant? ‘I don’t like to make comparisons, but I think the best era was the one we experienced with Pep,’ he says.
‘However football doesn’t stay the same so you can’t compare what we do now with what we did then, or what we will do in the future.’
He misses Xavi and Andres Iniesta though, right? ‘Of course I do. They are once-in-a-lifetime players, and I spent so many years with them. We complemented each other well and we came from La Masia (Barcelona’s youth academy), which makes it even more special.’
Busquets admitted: ‘I think the best era was the one we experienced with Pep Guardiola’
‘We could understand each other with just a look. The opponent didn’t know what we were going to do but we knew with just a glance. That was a huge advantage.
‘We’d been through the same things, come up through the youth team, had a friendship on a personal level. It will be very difficult for another midfield like that one to emerge from La Masia.’
Another Messi may never emerge. His partnership with striker Luis Suarez looks stronger than ever.
‘It’s not just his goals but all that he brings to the team,’ says Busquets of Suarez. ‘The pressure he puts on defences, the way he holds the ball up, the way he battles with rival defences, all that gives us so much.’
Those two players will carry the greatest threat to United on Wednesday while Busquets quietly holds the fort behind them, prodding passes and eliminating danger.
He suggested that he misses playing alongside Xavi (left) and Andres Iniesta (centre)
Lifting the European Cup this season would be a fitting way to commemorate his debut season a decade ago, when he started as a skinny kid pushed into the first team by new coach Guardiola and ended it in Rome as Barca beat United 2-0.
‘I’m still the same player,’ he says. ‘Just with more experience. My job is still to put my qualities at the service of the team.
‘United are better now under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer,’ he says. ‘They don’t mind letting you have the ball because they sometimes know that the other side are technically better, but as we saw against PSG they take advantage of their counter-attacks and their set-pieces. If you make any mistakes, they capitalise.’
If they progress past United, there could be a reunion with Guardiola in the final. ‘I would sign for that right now,’ he says.
Busquets is also convinced United have improved since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge
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