Exerting power and authority on a football pitch can be done in different ways.
There is the more obvious, more dramatic and visually spectacular way that involves charging past your opponents, knocking them down like bowling pins and barreling into the penalty area to get on the end of a move you started on the edge of your own box 15 seconds earlier.
But there is a less perceptible way, too.
Power and authority can be shown in a calmer, more measured way as well, by simply keeping control of the ball, dictating play around you and always keeping your opponents at an arm’s length.
Perhaps it was a shift in those two methods that Barcelona were pondering in the summer of 2010 when a £24 million bid for Yaya Toure landed on their doorstep marked “from Manchester City.”
Toure had been the powerful, imposing influence on the Barca side that had just won the La Liga title and were a year on from winning the Champions League against Manchester United in Rome.
City, newly monied and seeking to establish themselves as a Premier League and—they’ll still hope—eventually a European force, saw Toure as the perfect “statement signing,” a player with obvious qualities who would be able to take England by storm and be an instant hero to their fans. In addition, his older brother Kolo was around to smooth any post-move nerves.
And Toure has proven to be that idol, to be that leader and reference point for his team. He frequently pops up with crucial goals, the most recent being the equaliser in the Capital One Cup final. In terms of respect and esteem amongst his central midfield peers in England, surely only Steven Gerrard comes close.
Yet, in that summer of 2010, the signs were already there that Barca were experiencing a shift in the type of power they wanted.
Sergio Busquets had broken through from the B team in the 2008-09 season, with his total of 41 appearances in all competitions already one more than Toure’s 40.
In the following campaign, Busquets played 52 times compared to Toure’s mere 37. As the growing and—in that summer of 2010—World Cup-winning partnership of Xavi and Andres Iniesta blossomed, it was the sense that Busquets was the ideal foil for them, which meant that the Toure sale could be tolerated. Could be encouraged, even.
As became apparent over the next couple of years of Barcelona’s brilliance and Spain’s dominance on the global stage, the power Busquets exerted over matches proved to be the perfect platform for players further ahead of him to shine.
Witness the stellar example of a defensive midfielder’s art that Busquets delivered in the Euro 2012 final against Italy or in countless matches when Barca were at their peak.
The Catalan might do some things on a football pitch that anger and even infuriate many watching on—something that you can never really accuse Toure of—but such antics were largely delivered in his younger days.
No doubt if you asked the man himself, he’d tell you that they were all part of him exerting his authority on the match and finding ways of winning it at all costs.
Control is vital to Busquets, whereas Toure often seems to thrive on chaos. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other one, but perhaps it would be difficult to imagine both swapping clubs as they might swap shirts at the end of Wednesday night’s Champions League battle at the Nou Camp.
As for which player is better, well that all depends on how you want your team to set up, but Busquets’ success since effectively ousting Toure from the Barca team would appear to tip the balance in his favour.
He isn’t going to rampage forward and score you the types of vital goals that can help win trophies or championships, but he can help provide the situations in which others can.
Any team would love to have one or both of them, but the fact that Barca did at one point and chose to offload the Ivorian worked out pretty well for them in the end.
They simply preferred a different type of power in their engine room, and that fuel has been burning pretty successfully ever since.