BARCELONA - If a random poll of football fans was taken and they were asked to name Spain's key players during last year's World Cup triumph, the chances are nobody would mention Sergio Busquets.
The 22-year-old Barcelona midfielder operates in the unglamorous defensive midfield role for club and country and is usually overshadowed by higher-profile team mates like Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa.
Recent comments from Spain coach Vicente del Bosque and Barca boss Pep Guardiola, however, hint at the vital role he played in both his country's success in South Africa and Barca's run of eight trophies in two and a half seasons.
"If I were a player today I would like to be like Sergio Busquets," former Real Madrid midfielder Del Bosque said.
"He does everything. He helps the team, he's generous, he exhausts himself and he's the first to play real football."
Guardiola coached Busquets in Barca's reserve side before promoting him to the first team.
"For what he has given us, for what he gives us and for what he will give us I only have words of gratitude."
During an interview after a rainy session at the club's training base on Monday, the softly-spoken Busquets exuded an air of quiet confidence that may be partly the result of having a goalkeeper father, Carles, who played for Barca in the 1990s.
Busquets junior joined in 2005 the club's spectacularly successful youth school, which has honed the talents of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Guardiola himself, and made his first-team debut in La Liga in 2008.
"Maybe I'm not such an eye-catching player in that I am not the one who scores decisive goals, but I would define myself as a team player," Busquets, dressed in blue jeans and a red sports top, told Reuters.
"I try to sacrifice myself for all my team mates, help out, stay tactically well positioned and play it simple. It's very important because you give balance to the central midfield."
He was Asked if he had modelled himself on anyone.
"I have always liked great players, but I also do not believe I can compare myself to anyone, I believe you always have to try to be yourself," he said.
Former Portugal winger Luis Figo, who left the Nou Camp in 2000 to join Barca's arch-rivals Real Madrid, was one of his childhood heroes - until he left for the Spanish capital, Busquets joked.
Guardiola has brought other talented players through from the reserve team, including Busquets's close friend Pedro, another Spain international who has had a meteoric rise.
"Apart from knowing a great deal and his experience as a player, he's a genuine student of football and he leaves no detail uncovered," Busquets said of Guardiola.
"He knows everything about our opponents and where we can hurt them and he prepares for the matches very well."
Looking ahead to Barca's Champions League last 16, first leg at Arsenal on Wednesday, Busquets said he expected a very attractive game between two sides with similar playing styles.
Barca beat Arsenal 6-3 over two legs in last year's quarter-finals, drawing 2-2 in London before Messi scored all four goals in a 4-1 comeback win at the Nou Camp.
"They have a very similar philosophy of keeping possession, quick passing in triangles, with top players, although they have a fairly young squad," he said.
"We are two teams who like to dominate possession, link up with each other, deploy players who can make a key difference. I think it's the best kind of football for the spectators."
Busquets's Spain team-mate and the Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas was the English club's standout performer, he added.
"He is a player who likes to hold the ball, he likes to link up with his team-mates, he has a great vision of the game and a very effective final ball.
"I am used to playing with him for the national team but he is a great player and very hard to stop."
Busquets last month extended his Barca contract by two years until 2015, with an option for another year, and said he was hoping to finish his career in the Catalan capital.
Asked if could be successful in England, there was another hint of solid self-esteem behind the calm demeanour.
"I think good players can adapt to any league and any team. Sometimes of course it takes more effort and sometimes less but I think that I have the game to adapt to the English league."comments