Barcelona after Sergio Busquets – Can Ruben Neves or Martin Zubemendi replace a legend?

On August 24, 2022, there was a reunion at the Camp Nou. Old friends gathered for a good cause: Barcelona And Manchester city They were playing a friendly match to raise money for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) research after former Barcelona player and assistant Juan Carlos Unzo was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease.

This was Xavi’s first match against Pep Guardiola on the touchline, while Guardiola was returning to the Camp Nou for the first time since 2016. It was also a special day for him. Sergio Busquets.

After the match, the Barcelona captain was seen chatting with several members of Guardiola’s team. Some of them were part of the technical squad that gave Busquets his Barcelona debut, in 2008 – Busquets was a member of the Barcelona B team when Guardiola began his coaching career in 2007.

In addition to remembering the golden era of Barcelona in which they were involved, Busquets admitted to some of his old friends that he envisioned this as his last season at the club. With his contract expiring the following summer, the 34-year-old received interest from abroad, particularly from France football League. Fifteen seasons after his debut, it felt right to call him today.

Less than six months after that, things changed.

Busquets is on the verge of his 700th appearance in the Barcelona shirt, an achievement he would reach if he participated in a confrontation Real Betis In the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday, as the Catalans seek to win their first trophy of the season.

There are only two players in Barcelona’s history who have played more matches than him. One of them is his current manager and former teammate Xavi (767 matches). the other Lionel Messi (778 impressions).

There is no doubting Busquets’ status as a club legend, but at the age of 34, he remains an essential part of the club’s squad, and Xavi will work hard to convince him to stay beyond this season.

Busquets has the fifth most first-team minutes out of all players in the squad this season. Marc-Andre ter StegenAnd PedriAnd Robert Lewandowski And Ousmane Dembele They are the only players who have more playing time.

It is still preferred over the youngest Javi or Frankie Young, who is preparing to be a suitable successor and has performed well as a midfielder. But Xavi still believes that no one in the team can do what Busquets is doing at the moment and he repeated that before Barcelona’s confrontation with Betis.

“He’s an essential piece of the team – the captain, [a] “A key figure in the dressing room,” said Xavi. “He is proverbial with his professionalism and commitment. That is invaluable. From a tactical point of view, he is practically perfect.

He will define an era with his stances. There will be a time before Busquets and after Busquets in sport. He will be a benchmark for any player in our system.”

Sergio Busquets, Antoine Griezmann


Busquets challenged Antoine Griezmann during last week’s La Liga match (Picture: Angel Martinez via Getty Images)

Since Joan Laporta became Barcelona president again in 2021, planning for life after Busquets has been on the to-do list, but the club is finding it difficult to agree on who is the best replacement for the midfielder.

On the one hand, Laporta and its executive team, which included key figures such as sports director Matteo Alemani, were considering nominating Wolverhampton Wanderers Midfielder Ruben Nevis.

Neves, 25, will enter the final year of his contract with Wolverhampton next summer. His agent is Jorge Mendes, who has a close relationship with Laporta that began nearly 20 years ago when the president won elections for Barcelona for the first time; The relationship has been cemented recently with Mendes who represents many of the club’s brightest talents, such as Ansu FatiAnd Alejandro Balde And Nico Gonzalez.

Mendes has offered Neves to Barcelona, ​​and it is understood the agent will help make the transfer possible The club’s financial hardships. But another group of people within the club have doubts about whether Neves is the right fit for the job.

Xavi and his backroom staff would prefer a different player, according to sources close to the club, who wish to remain anonymous to protect their jobs. Their preferred candidate is real community‘s Martin Zubemendi.

Two years younger than Nevis, Zubimendi is enjoying an excellent season at Real Sociedad, his boyhood club. Considered more accustomed to operating as a lone midfielder, he has shone through the youth ranks in Spain, and it is understood that his skills are very similar to Busquets.

However, Zubimendi has a problem, which is his price. His release clause is set at €60m, and Real Sociedad has no intention of entertaining any offers that do not meet the full amount.


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Zubimendi agreed to a contract extension in October last year and was given a salary upgrade, but his release clause remained the same. By signing this deal, Real Sociedad has hinted that they will not keep their jewel at any price, but expect to get the right price for it.

For Barcelona, ​​60 million euros is not the right price. Spending that amount on a promising player who has not yet been proven at club and international level is seen by Barcelona as excessively risky – even with Xavi’s blessing.

This is the crossroads at which the Catalans found themselves. When asked about the situation, Laporta admitted last week that they still need to have more talks within the club before making a decision.

“Neves is a great player and we know that Jorge Mendes represents him,” he said. Aside from that, it’s all news [stories] It’s rumors and noise. We need to continue to have internal discussions because we know Busquets will never be the same.”

In the meantime, trying to persuade Busquets to extend his club journey seems like a reasonable decision, and club sources confirmed this. the athlete They are exploring new possibilities for his future.

deepen

Barcelona are aware that their captain has been in contact with MLS side Inter Miami regarding a possible signing, and at the start of the year there were three possible scenarios for Busquets’ near future.

The first, which is probably the most likely at the moment, is to let him go in January. His departure was a dilution of the club’s salary cap that had been set by him leaguewhile fulfilling his ambition of playing in the MLS and joining his new club during the pre-season.

However, the short-term needs of Chaffee’s team meant that this route was off-limits.

The second course, and the more sensible option, was to keep Busquets until the end of the season and let him go on a free transfer at the end of his contract, if he so desired.

But Barcelona will sit down with Busquets and discuss the third option, in which Xavi will play a big role: persuading him to stay. Laporta has hinted he might be on the same page as the manager.

“I think Busquets can still continue,” he stated, before adding: “If we agree to any contract extension with Busi, I am quite sure it will be for one year. At the end of the season, we will definitely talk.”

The challenge is how they convinced Busquets after he told his old friends in that friendly that he expected this to be his last year at the club. Raising the Supercopa in Saudi Arabia may be the first step towards doing so.

(Top photos, left to right: Juan Manuel Serrano Arce, David Ramos, and Naomi Baker, all via Getty Images)

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