On August 24, 2022, there was a gathering on the Camp Nou. Outdated mates gathered for a very good trigger: Barcelona and Manchester Metropolis had been taking part in a pleasant to boost funds for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) analysis after the previous Barca participant and assistant supervisor Juan Carlos Unzue was identified with the neurodegenerative illness.
It was Xavi’s first match-up in opposition to Pep Guardiola on the touchline, whereas Guardiola was making a return to the Camp Nou dugout for the primary time since 2016. It was additionally a special occasion for Sergio Busquets.
After the match, the Barcelona captain was seen chatting with a number of members of Guardiola’s backroom workers. A few of them had been a part of the technical staff that gave Busquets his Barcelona debut, again in 2008 — Busquets was a member of the Barcelona B squad when Guardiola began his managerial profession in 2007.
In addition to recalling the golden Barca period that they had participated in, Busquets confessed to a few of his outdated mates that he pictured this being his final season on the membership. Together with his contract because of expire the next summer season, the 34-year-old had acquired curiosity from overseas, particularly from Main League Soccer. Fifteen seasons after his debut, it felt proper to name it a day.
Lower than six months after that, although, issues have modified.
Busquets is on the verge of creating his 700th look in a Barcelona shirt, a milestone he’ll attain if he options in opposition to Actual Betis within the Supercopa de Espana semi-final on Thursday, the place the Catalans will probably be aiming to take house the primary trophy of the season.
There are solely two gamers in Barcelona’s historical past with extra video games than him. One is his current supervisor of him, and former team-mate, Xavi (767 appearances). The opposite is Lionel Messi (778 appearances).
Busquets’ standing as a membership legend is unquestionable however, on the age of 34, he’s additionally nonetheless a elementary a part of the membership’s squad, and Xavi will work arduous to steer him to remain on past this season.
Busquets has the fifth most first-team minutes of all of the gamers within the squad this season. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Pedri, Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembele are the one gamers with extra sport time.
He’s nonetheless most popular to the youthful Gavi or Frenkie de Jong, the latter of whom is poised to be an enough successor and has carried out at an honest stage as a holding midfielder. However Xavi nonetheless believes there is no one within the squad who can supply what Busquets does at current and reiterated that earlier than Barcelona’s conflict with Betis.
“He is a elementary piece for the staff — the captain, [a] key determine for the dressing room,” Xavi stated. “He units an instance by how skilled, how dedicated he’s. That is priceless. From a tactical standpoint, he is virtually good.
“He’ll outline an period along with his positions. There will probably be a time earlier than Busquets and after Busquets within the sport. He will probably be a benchmark for any participant in our system.”
Since Joan Laporta turned Barca president once more in 2021, planning for all times after Busquets has been on the to-do record, however the membership are discovering it tough to agree who’s the perfect substitute for the tempo-setting midfielder.
On one facet, Laporta and his government staff, with key figures equivalent to sporting director Mateu Alemany amongst them, have been contemplating the candidacy of Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Ruben Neves.
Neves, 25, will enter the ultimate yr of his contract with Wolves subsequent summer season. His agent is Jorge Mendes, who has an in depth relationship with Laporta who started virtually 20 years in the past when the president received the Barcelona elections for the primary time; the connection was cemented extra lately with Mendes representing a number of of the membership’s brightest skills, equivalent to Ansu Fati, Alejandro Balde and Nico Gonzalez.
Mendes provided Neves to Barcelona, and it’s understood the agent would assist make the switch possible contemplating the membership’s monetary struggles. However there may be one other group of individuals contained in the membership who’ve doubts about whether or not Neves is the proper match for the place.
Xavi and his backroom workers favor a special participant, in accordance with sources near the membership, who want to be nameless to guard their jobs. Their most popular candidate is Actual Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi.
Two years youthful than Neves, Zubimendi is having fun with a wonderful season at Actual Sociedad, his boyhood membership. He’s thought of to be extra used to working as a sole holding midfielder, having shone in Spain’s youth ranks, and his skillset is known to be extra just like Busquets’.
Zubimendi has an issue, nevertheless, which is his price ticket. His launch clause is about at €60 million, and Actual Sociedad don’t have any intention of entertaining any provides that don’t meet the total quantity.
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Zubimendi agreed to a contract extension in October final yr and secured a wage improve, however his launch clause remained the identical. By signing this deal, Actual Sociedad hinted they would not preserve their jewel in any respect prices, however that they count on to get the proper value for him.
For Barcelona, €60m isn’t the proper value. Spending that quantity on a promising participant who remains to be unproven at membership and worldwide stage is seen as an extreme danger by Barca — even with Xavi’s blessing.
That is the crossroads the Catalans have discovered themselves at. When requested in regards to the scenario, Laporta admitted final week that they nonetheless want to carry extra talks contained in the membership earlier than making a choice.
“Neves is a superb participant, and we all know he’s represented by Jorge Mendes,” he stated. “Aside from that, all of the information [stories] are rumors and noise. We have to preserve having inside discussions as a result of we all know Busquets will not be everlasting.”
Within the meantime, attempting to persuade Busquets to increase his journey on the membership looks like a wise determination, and membership sources confirmed to The Athletic that they’re exploring new potentialities for his future.
Barcelona is conscious that their captain has been involved with MLS facet Inter Miami concerning a possible signing, and in the beginning of the yr there have been three potential eventualities for Busquets’ fast future.
The primary one, presumably essentially the most unlikely in the intervening time, was letting him go this January. His departure from him would have eased the membership’s wage restrict set by La Liga, whereas fulfilling his ambition to play in MLS and be a part of his new membership throughout their pre-season.
Nevertheless, the short-term wants of Xavi’s staff meant that route was a no-go.
The second path, and essentially the most logical choice, was to maintain Busquets till the tip of the season and let him go on a free switch on the finish of his contract, if he needs.
However Barcelona will sit down with Busquets and focus on the third choice, which Xavi will play a giant half in: convincing him to remain. Laporta hinted he is likely to be on the identical web page because the supervisor.
“I consider Busquets can nonetheless preserve going,” he said, earlier than including: “If we comply with any contract extension with Busi, I am fairly positive it might be a one-year factor. On the finish of the season, we’ll speak for positive.”
The problem is how they persuade Busquets after he informed his outdated mates at that pleasant match that he anticipated this to be his last yr on the membership. Lifting the Tremendous Cup in Saudi Arabia is likely to be step one in the direction of doing that.
(High photos, left to proper: Juan Manuel Serrano Arce, David Ramos, and Naomi Baker, all by way of Getty Photos)