No, no. You read the title correctly. This is apparently a thing. I know, I didn’t believe it either until I logged onto to Twitter one day and was comprehensively befuddled by a debate unfolding before my eyes, complete with instant updates. Welcome to Zinedine Zidane v Sergio Busquets, brought to you by The Away End.
When the opposing clans of Real Madrid and Barcelona fans wage war on the gruesome badlands that are social media platforms, I advise spectators to stand back. Otherwise, you may get sucked into the ruckus. Admittedly, as a writer, this isn’t the first time I’ve weighed in on this debate. Previously for a blog, I did a poll to ask a very simple question: Who’s the better player – Busquets or Zidane? And it wasn’t as one-sided as I had predicted. With close to 500 votes cast, the winner (and still champion) of the contest was Real Madrid’s now manager, Zinedine Zidane. However, Zizou’s percentage didn’t dwarf Barcelona’s holding midfielder as expected. The Frenchman tallied just fewer than 60% of the votes.
Furthermore, the curious results of the poll have done nothing to pacify my fascination with this seemingly extraordinary dispute. And now that Zidane has been handed Rafa Benitez’s sweaty reins as galáctico-tamer, I feel that the argument’s timing is at least somewhat relevant again. Now, whether or not the votes of the original poll were conditioned by the allegiances of Real Madrid or Barcelona favoritism is a variable I won’t be able to control, but from an objective point of view, for me, it’s always going to be Zidane. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to dissect the facts and let the people decide. So let’s get to it, shall we?
Zizou retired before Busquets ever made his first team debut for Barcelona. Henceforth, there are no head-to-head performances to which you can watch the two players duke it out on the pitch. Tactical eras change. Methods of coaching change. Just about every variable you can think of shifts, if only slightly, between Zidane’s infamous last match and Busquets’ promotion to the Barcelona senior squad. But let’s start with the challenger, a central cog in the Barcelona framework that has made the club the most formidable team Europe has produced in the last decade. From what I’ve gathered, those in Busquets’ corner advise that Sergi’s consistency and importance to an ultra-successful team is what sets him apart from Zidane. But to counter that, it’s difficult to judge individuals on the merit of a team’s achievements no matter the individual contribution, is it not? Essentially you need to eliminate the weight of team trophies altogether. In order to determine who the better player is, one needs to judge the players’ set of personal technical and tactical abilities on their own. Otherwise you’re arguing that Zidane won the 1998 World Cup on his own, and that all Busquets’ La Liga winners’ medals were achieved in spite of players like Messi banging in forty-plus goals a season. You see what I’m getting at?
And for the sake of avoiding unhelpful tangents, let’s leave every FIFA-given personal award out of this. Whether or not you believe they are popularity contests, rigged, or some other sort of polluting detriment of unhelpfulness, let’s leave that stuff out.
But from a tactical sense, it’s again difficult to judge the two. First and foremost, Zidane was an attacking midfielder where Busquets is a midfielder of a completely different mold. Moreover, when Zidane was playing, that was years before Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka revelation put a choke hold on the European continent. Busquets is the product of a greater system, one he thrives in. Now, could Zidane have played in a system like that? We’ll never know. But if you switched Busquets’ and Zidane’s role in the midfield, who do you think would prevail? Could Zidane sit into the pivot and orchestrate from a deeper whereabouts? In contrast, could Busquets play the ‘number 10’ and conjure the magic spark that wins big games? It’s certainly an interesting take on the matter and totally up to your own interpretation.
At the end of the day it comes down to one thing for me. But before I offer up my definitive reasoning, I’ll admit that this rationale is inconsiderate of other aspects in the wider debate and that I’m at peace with the fact that this is a woefully narrow-minded conclusion. So here it is: If Sergi Busquets tries to pick out the same volley Zinedine Zidane did in the 2002 Champions League final and smash it into the roof of the net with his weaker foot from the top of the penalty area, the result is not the same. That’s what I think at least. Though Busquets is a terrifically gifted player, Zidane is technically superior and tactically on a similar level for the epoch and systems that he played in.
But what I think is never what matters. Let’s hear your take on all this. Who’s better for you – Zidane or Busquets?