Plaintiff's opening argument:
The debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in Illinois in the 1860s spawned one slave emancipator, two major-party presidential candidates, and legions of high school followers. Sadly, our debate on the best holding midfielder for La Furia Roja will not have the same impact.
However, it is important for Spain manager Vicente del Bosque to understand--más vale tarde que nunca--that he is featuring the wrong player. That man should be Villarreal's jack-of-all-trades Bruno Soriano, not Barcelona's Oscar nominee Sergio Busquets.
Three reasons why:
1. Bruno is a better passer. Euro 2008 and South Africa 2010 established the preeminence of tiki-taka in world football. And Barcelona's record-setting era of dominance--in Spain, Europe, and around the world--has been its foremost exponent. So you might think a La Masia product would have our local boy's number. But you would be wrong.
Our man from Artana was fourth in La Liga last season in passes completed--2,365 to only 256 failed. The top three? Who you might expect: Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, and Dani Alves. So either Bruno sticks out like a sore thumb, or the pundits have been sparse in their recognition. You are the judge, but Sir Alex Ferguson's strong interest in Bruno should guide your decision.
2. Bruno is a better tackler. Statistics often lie, but this one does not: 411 recuperaciones in 2010-11, second-best in La Liga. He may have more opportunities to win the ball, as Villarreal is only Barcelona-lite (on a good day) in terms of possession, but every team has a destroyer. Not all of them win the ball and avoid giving away free kicks in dangerous positions. Bruno does.
3. Bruno is a leader. I've advocated for Bruno's ascension to the captaincy, at least when Marcos Senna finally hangs up his boots. Bruno's work ethic and humility embody what Yellow Submarine supporters love about the club, and the spirit is contagious in good times.
In contrast, Busquets is able to hang back in the shadows, as seems to befit his personality, with Xavi, Iniesta, and Víctor Valdés shouldering the speaking load. Busi may be respected, but Bruno has consistently performed even as Nero fiddled from the balcony (now four managers in three years).
Three counterarguments I will nip in the bud:
1. Busquets is more versatile. At one time, this argument had merit. But Bruno has surpassed his Barcelona rival over the last two seasons, meeting Juan Carlos Garrido's high expectations by rotating among three positions. In addition to the doble pivote, Bruno filled in at left back late in games, and Garrido even opted for Guardiola's (and Bielsa's) 3-4-3 in the return leg of this season's UEFA Champions League play-off against Odense. How? By starting Bruno at center back. We all know of Busquets' performances at center back; now learn another position.
2. Busquets is younger--La Roja is aging. You can't argue with immutability, and Bruno did spend a few years toiling in obscurity. Busquets is four years younger (23 versus 27), but Bruno is in his prime. Assuming a typical athletic drop-off around 32, Bruno has three major tournaments left (through Euro 2016). That's a lifetime in international football.
3. Busquets is a winner--the spirit is contagious. Another truism. Busquets is the son of a Barcelona Dream Teamer and has collected winners' medals galore for club and country. But just playing on perhaps the best club team ever does not establish one's bona fides. As noted above, Bruno's leadership qualities may have a more direct impact on morale and results.
Most importantly, Bruno does not play for either Barcelona or Real Madrid. The long-term scars of Jose Mourinho's antics and Busquets' playacting in 2011's seven clásicos remain to be seen, but La Roja cannot rest on its laurels at Euro 2012--fifteen other teams are poised to dethrone the champions. New blood is needed in the Spanish national team, and a change at holding midfielder would be a good start.