Barcelona's Busquets smoke-screen quickly dissipates

Barcelona pulled Busquets out of the Clásico against Real Madrid at the last minute, initially claiming it was a "technical decision".

Barcelona's Busquets smoke-screen quickly dissapated

As AS and other news outlets promptly informed its readers about Sergio Busquets’ last-minute withdrawal from the Barcelona starting XI for the Clásico, the club’s assistant coach, Jon Aspiazu, and institutional relations director, Guillermo Amor, came forward to deny the reports.

Amor claimed that that there had been “a misunderstanding when the line-ups were transcribed”, while Aspiazu asserted that Busquets’ exclusion was due to "a technical decision".

The misinformation fed by Barça on this occasion was a pure and hard strategy to not give away any clues to Real Madrid. The club tried to hide Busquets’ withdrawal until the last minute and it was not until after the game that coach Ernesto Valverde himself acknowledged the player's illness – thus embarrassing Aspiazu and Amor by contradicting their previous statements.

Busquets Clásico withdrawal: the sequence of events

The whole episode began on the same morning of the Clásico when Busquets joined up late with his team mates, complaining he had a bad night’s sleep due to fever. The coaches did not give it much importance on the belief it was something temporary.

But Busquets, who barely ate anything during the free buffet at the hotel, was showing no signs of improvement, so the club’s medical staff gave him some antipyretic medication in hopes of relieving the feverish symptoms.

After resting for a while in his room, Busquets said he felt better. As such, Valverde kept him in his starting XI and an hour and a half before the game, the club handed in the team sheet with the midfielder included.

Sergio Busquets before the Clásico

But not long after, having performed a warm-up session in the Camp Nou dressing room, Busquets approached Valverde to inform him that he felt weak and dizzy – prompting the coach to urgently replace him with Rakitic, who had been named on the bench. Fifteen minutes after handing in the first team sheet, the club provided the amended line-up, replacing Busquets with his Croatian team mate.

However, Barça considered it key to ensure that Madrid did not find out about the true nature of Busquets' absence, urging Aspiazu to claim it was “a technical decision” in his pre-match interview. More serious though was the excuse wielded by Amor, as he directly pointed to the clumsiness of those responsible for transcribing the starting XI.

Barça’s smokescreen didn’t last long

However, Barça's smoke screen quickly dissipated – firstly thanks to the media reports that cited the true reasons for his absence, and secondly, because the player himself ran into Spain team mates Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos and Isco at half time in the tunnel and informed them that he was ill.

During the second half, Valverde, aware that the game wasn’t going well after a very disappointing first half, asked Busquets if he would be able to play at least fifteen minutes. The Spain international agreed and proceeded to join Ansu Fati and fitness coach José Antonio Pozanco along the side-line to start his warm-up.

However, five minutes later, the player again complained he was not well and after exchanging a few words with the coach, it was decided that he would not come on after all. It was obvious that Busquets could not play, but in his defence it should be stressed that he tried until the last moment, despite his obvious limitations.