September 13, 2018 marks the tenth anniversary of Sergio Busquets’ Barcelona debut.
When the midfielder first stepped out for the Camp Nou side against a newly promoted Racing Santander, Pep Guardiola still had hair on his head. His decision to promote the youngster from the ‘B’ ranks of the club proved one of his best in his early years in management, with Busquets the man who would ultimately overthrow Yaya Toure in the heart of the park and force Javier Mascherano into a new career as a centre-back.
“If I were a player, I would like to look like Busquets,” erstwhile Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said prior to 2010 World Cup, in which the midfielder was a key part of La Roja’s success, just a couple of years after making his professional debut.
On his debut against Racing, he wore the No.28 shirt and played the full 90 minutes alongside Xavi and Seydou Keita. Those who played alongside him, however, did not realise it was the beginning of an era.
Guardiola protected him initially, bringing him in and out of the team during his first season, but during the campaign in which Barcelona won six trophies, dominating world football, Busquets played all the most important matches, including the Champions League final against Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo.
A couple of years later and with another Champions League title under his belt, Guardiola echoed the words of Del Bosque.
“I would like to reincarnate myself in him, he is the best player in the world,” Pep said.
Meanwhile, Busquets’ presence did not necessarily please everyone.
“Without him, I wouldn’t have left Barcelona,” Yaya Toure, previously a rock in the midfield, lamented. “It was the most difficult moment of my life because I wanted to retire there.”
Speaking of the man who replaced him, the Ivorian said: “He has enormous quality and what I want is to be starting matches, not being on the bench.”
Mascherano similarly had to give up a midfield role when faced with Busquets.
“Replacing him is almost impossible,” the Argentina captain admitted.
Even with his formidable international status, he had to come to accept that Busquets was simply better in the midfield and that he was going to have to fight for a place in the heart of the defence.
Meanwhile, the Catalan's growing status as a member of the team saw his shirt number gradually upgrade to 16 and then 5, a symbolic number given that it was inherited from club legend Carles Puyol.
And his influence has not stopped growing. Following Andres Iniesta’s departure in the summer, he has become the vice-captain of the team behind Lionel Messi and the outstanding candidate to take the armband once the Argentine departs ‘his’ Barcelona.
But it is also the Barcelona of Busquets, who signed a contract renewal with the club until 2023 a month ago.