Thursday, April 28, 2011

UEFA Champions' League: Sergio Busquets, the most hated man in Spain

For a someone playing a crucial role for two of the most lauded clubs in recent history, Sergio Busquets is perhaps both the man who does the dirty work and the face of a popular dictatorship. In other words, Sergio Busquets may be the most hated man in Spain outside Catalunya, a player Spain forgives only when his stunts are used (from their perspective) for their team - another popular autocracy.

Barcelona - and Spain - rule world football. They are the two best teams in the world today and there is much overlap between them as many of the Spanish national team play their club football for Barca - including Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Bojan. In a league where spectators are forced to tacitly support one of the "Big Two" as well as their own preference, certain players who irritate when playing against your side become fast favourites.

Not so with Sergio Busquets. That's not to say he's not a wonderful footballer - he is almost everything you could want from a defensive-minded midfielder - but his big stage playacting (see here for one example) during yesterday's Champions' League SuperClasico may well have proved the final straw for many neutral observers. In Facebook terms, he will have gone from "Like" to *Dislike* for many neutral observers. Roundly condemned by Madridista fans and commentators alike, his - and other Barca players' - overexaggeration of several minor incidents irritated so much that a game which should have been a wonderful spectacle (and at times was, especially Lionel Messi's marvellous solo goal to seal the win) was overshadowed by the Dark Arts - diving and exaggerating contact to attract free kicks or cards.

Outside Barcelona - where too his actions should not be lauded - it's likely that his performance last night attracted Busquets no fans, and indeed the ire of several sections of press and supporters. UEFA make a habit of not wanting to set precedents and as such are unlikely to sanction him for his actions, especially when the game also prompted a brawl, a foul-mouthed Pep Guardiola presser, Jose Mourinho sent to "The Cage", an arguable red card for Pepe, further alleged diving incidents from Pedro and Dani Alves and finally, a war of words since the match leaving Barcelona investigating a formal complaint.

While many individuals involved with yesterday's encounter appear the worse for their actions and antics, it is Busquets who will almost undoubtedly come off amongst the worst. Firstly, he has priors for "simulation". Secondly, for a Spaniard it's impossible to get a larger stage than a Champions' League Semi-Final against Real Madrid - a match which nominally forces the entire of Spain to choose a side (in a World Cup final, the vast majority will be supporting Spain already).

Finally, these actions only reinforce his popular perception (at least by pundits on ESPN and the Guardian's Football pages) as a player who dabbles - and occasionally dives headlong into - the dark side of the force. Mourinho, though his postgame statements reek of paranoic mania, has a history of playing people offside with his comments and doesn't play such a crucial role in the Spanish national setup. Where Jose seems to have accepted his role is to be disliked by everyone other than fans of his current employers, Busquets must face Euro 2012 next year as one of the faces of a Spanish midfield. He may not be looked at in quite the same way again by the neutral.

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