Busquets: poor in a Barcelona shirt, great in a Spain shirt

Before the Nations League’s short finals tournament begins to fade from memory, I’d like to touch on something which, along with Spain's fine performance overall, is a particular positive from the few days in Italy: Sergio Busquets’ selection as player of the finals. It’s nice to see the accolade go to Busquets, the last vestige of La Roja’s glorious period. Euro 2008 came too soon for him, Marcos Senna playing at anchorman in Austria and Switzerland, but he was at the World Cup in South Africa and the Euros in Ukraine and Poland. Since then, Busquets has had to endure the years of decline, as, piece by piece, Spain’s all-conquering team has succumbed to the passage of time. He’s now the only player left from it.

Busquets' Spain form all about how Luis Enrique's team is set up

His good displays for Spain, which have been recognised with this award, contrast with the frequent struggles we’ve seen him experience in today’s Barcelona side. Some, indeed, had started to believe his time was up, but that’s clearly not the case. It all comes down to how the two teams play. With the slowing Gerard Piqué pulling the defence deep, Barça tend to be scattered across the length of the pitch; a loose, disorganised team. Spain, on the other hand, press further up the field and play with a high defensive line. Busquets defends better if he’s looking forwards rather than backwards, and in a more compact team he has more people around him from whom to seek the ball, receive it and distribute it.

And his team-mates look for him. In Busquets, Luis Enrique’s quick, committed young group of players have someone to look up to, a sort of older brother. Eleven years ago, when they were still kids, they watched him win the World Cup in Johannesburg. Now they trust him, make runs for him and seek him out when they need an option. That’s football: the same player, in the same position, can play so badly in one team that they look like they’re finished, and so well in another that they’re chosen as the best player at a major European finals. In Busquets, Luis Enrique’s Spain have a bedrock at the base of the midfield; in the Spain team, Busquets has a source of relief from all the heartache at Barça.