Scoring an own goal in a tense UEFA Champions League tie to put the opposition ahead is no laughing matter. But once FC Barcelona had eliminated Arsenal FC 4-3 on aggregate, Sergio Busquets would have allowed himself a small smile at the irony of our interview a couple of days earlier.
Busquets has happily played in four positions across Barcelona's midfield and defence, and it was as a centre-half that he headed a corner past his own goalkeeper Víctor Valdés during the knife-edge round of 16 tie against Arsenal in March. No centre-forward could have wished for sweeter contact to send the ball deep into Valdés's right-hand corner.
The irony? Well, Busquets started as a striker, wishes he was still one, and loves nothing more than seeing one of his efforts rippling the net. Against the opposition of course.
His father Carles kept goal for Barcelona in the 1991 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final defeat by Manchester United FC – beaten twice by Mark Hughes as manager Sir Alex Ferguson began to make his mark at Old Trafford. Copying his dad and keeping goal was never on Sergio's mind.
"No way!" the 22-year-old says. "When you're young it's boring to be a keeper. When you're playing at school or with friends, you always want to be a forward and score goals. Also, because my father was a keeper, he always let me and my brother take shots at him. We loved that."
If Busquets suffered any kind of identity crisis about where satisfaction on a football pitch lay, it has hardly held him back. Since making his first-team debut against Real Racing Club in September 2008, he has broken records and hoovered up trophies, becoming indispensable for club and country.
The leap from third-tier football to full international took less than nine months. Exactly eight weeks after his first Spain cap, he won the UEFA Champions League in Rome. A year later he was a world champion with Spain. But he is sufficiently self-aware to admit that occasionally his meteoric progress makes him stop and take stock.
"Yes, that happens often enough," he says. "People remind you that it's historic to cram all these titles into such a short career and when they say that, I realise there can be very few guys who have achieved all that so rapidly."
The speed with which Spain coach Vicente del Bosque realised Busquets was mature enough for selection after under a full season in Barcelona's senior team was astounding. Yet supporters and pundits have taken longer to appreciate what the experts got immediately. Busquets understands why.
"If you want to play showy football and be noticed, then mine isn't the position," he says. "On a tactical level, the defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 is just about the most demanding position there is. I'm a team player who needs to work a lot and sacrifice myself for the success of the group."
Surrounded by artistic players like Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Lionel Messi, his uncompromising moments are more conspicuous. But each of those players knows Busquets's importance. "I know people used to look at Sergio and think, 'that's not Barça's style' but they were wrong," Xavi told El País. "He has all that plus a lot more. He's the first to see the first-time pass, he plays with his head up and constantly chooses the best options."
In short, what Busquets offers Barcelona and Guardiola is consistency, allowing the side to be as reliable against Getafe CF or Levante UD as they are against Europe's best – just another rival to be outworked and outpassed. Yet he is far from immune to the adrenaline, pride and hunger that UEFA Champions League nights bring – such as the 5-1 defeat of FC Shakhtar Donetsk that leaves Barça potentially 90 minutes away from setting up a semi-final with Real Madrid CF.
"It's the Champions League that really gets the Barcelona fans buzzing," Busquets says. "We take the bus to the stadium and see all the people in the streets willing us on. It's Champions League nights when our fans roar us on even more, lose their voices, and we really notice it. That's what the Champions League means to me."
This interview features in the latest edition of Champions magazine. Subscribe now.
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