Early Doors

Busquets: Barca’s ever-willing villain

Early Doors

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Ahead of Saturday's Champions League final, the pre-match hype is all built around the stars that will be on display.

Sponsors, broadcasters and UEFA themselves plan on making a pretty penny off the backs of the world's best player, Lionel Messi, and fellow Ballon d'Or nominees Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta rocking up at Wembley. And that David Villa isn't bad either.  For Manchester United's part, they will have big names like Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs in their ranks. An estimated audience of 100 million across Europe will tune in to see the best the game has to offer.

While the household names may be the ones who the cameras will be drawn towards, there are others whose graft in a supporting role will be components just as vital in making the match the final we all hope it will be.

Darren Fletcher could prove vital to United's chances of stopping Barca's metronomic midfield ticking over so smoothly. The Scot missed the 2009 final defeat to the same side in Rome, an absence which served to highlight his stoic efforts which often largely slip under the radar.

Fletcher has missed much of the last few months through illness, but played the full 90 minutes against Blackpool on the final day of the Premier League last weekend. His return could hardly be better timed.

If Fletcher is appreciated for his gutsy efforts as the strong, silent type in the heart of the United team, the view of his opposite number could not be more different.

Carles Busquets will forever be part of Barca's history for the decade he spent at the club as their reserve goalkeeper. His son and current Barca midfielder, Sergio, is infamous for using his hands in different ways.

The 22-year-old's role as the villain among Barca's virtuous heroes was inextricably cast when he went down clutching his face after the slightest of contact by Internazionale's Thiago Motta in last season's semi-final.  Busquets was caught on camera peeking through his fingers to see if his efforts in getting Motta sent off had worked. They had, but the rest of the world saw his concealed sneers as a disgrace.

That act was trumped in this year's semi-final when Real Madrid released slow-motion footage of him covering his mouth as he directed a few choice words at Marcelo. Real alleged that it was racist abuse aimed at their Brazilian full-back and made a complaint to UEFA, but the case was rejected.

The old saying goes that there cannot be true goodness without the existence of evil. While Barca's famed La Masia academy churns out a succession of supremely talented players, most of who are seen as paragons of virtue worthy of the 'Mes Que Un Club' legend the Barca have built for themselves, Busquets is a true villain. It is not hard to imagine him peering from the shadows twirling his long, thin moustache while sporting a top hat and cape.

The Metropolitan Police's efforts in maintaining order around Wembley on Saturday have been boosted by the presence of spotters from their Catalan counterparts, who will be on the look-out for trouble-makers from their own patch. However, neither the Met nor the Mossos d'Esquadra will be able to do anything about the inciter-in-chief who will be on the pitch.

All of this would probably be a lot easier to digest if it were not for the fact that he is also a very good player. Xavi and Iniesta may rightly hog all the plaudits (Xavi's 1167 passes so far this season are already a Champions League record), but Busquets is no mug with the ball at his feet. It was not for nothing that he was chosen as the man to replace Marcos Senna at the base of Spain's midfield following victory at Euro 2008, and he went on to start all seven matches in La Furia Roja's glorious World Cup campaign last summer.

He may not get forward very often, but when he does he knows where the net is, as he proved by netting a match-clinching third goal at Athletic Bilbao earlier in the season with a ruthless finish lashed into the top corner. Athletic themselves must see Busquets as something of a heel - his only other goal in La Liga came against them two years ago.

There is not much British football fans detest more than cheating in the game, while Spanish supporters may view the kind of leg-breaking tackles which routinely fly in during Premier League games as more of a problem than simply using your cunning to get one over an opponent.

Either way, Busquets is sure to get a hostile reception from the British contingent at Wembley on Saturday, even if he does little to provoke it in that match alone. Still, he will revel in such an atmosphere, and you wouldn't bet against him responding with a devious act that would wind the crowd up even more.

Every great story needs a villain, and if Saturday's final is to be such a story then Busquets is the perfect man to fill that role.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I had a meeting with Newcastle managing director Derek Llambias and club secretary Lee Charnley and they have indicated Joey will not be offered a new contract. Joey will continue to be a Newcastle player next season and then he will leave on a free transfer at the end of his contract. Joey would have loved to have extended his stay at Newcastle, but unfortunately it is not to be. Joey has loved his time at Newcastle and nothing will change his commitment for the club next season." - Joey Barton's agent Willie McKay reveals that his client will be leaving St James' Park at the end of next season. What are Newcastle thinking? After all, isn't he the best midfielder in England? Well, that's what Barton himself claimed not so long ago, anyway.

FOREIGN VIEW: "The experience of this season has shown the need for a new organisational structure giving authority to the coach and avoiding dysfunctions with the directorate general. I do not want to hide the pain I feel at the exit of Jorge Valdano, but my feelings cannot be a reason for not taking the necessary decisions. There were two people filling a sporting role between whom there was no understanding." - Real Madrid president Florentino Perez announces the departure of director general Jorge Valdano, who had been at loggerheads with manager Jose Mourinho pretty much since the Portuguese arrived last summer. Strike one for Jose!

COMING UP: Champions League final build-up continues today, with all the latest news broken via our live news ticker. Armchair Pundit Alex Chick will also be weighing in with his two pennies' worth on the Wembley clash and we will be taking a look at some of the players who have graced this fixture in the past.

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