Samper, intelligence and the role of the ‘4’.
There’s an incredible video from 2014 (I’ll share the link in my story) where Sergi Samper was shown small snippets or previews of actions from Busquets, and the young Catalan had to guess what would Busi do next.
When everyone would have expected Busquets to make a forward pass just after recovering the ball in the opposing half, Samper guessed that he would retain possession with a simple pass – basic principle of Positional Play. When Busquets was under pressure, Samper saw that he would make one of his characteristic dribbles.
Busquets’ football seems fairly simple, but it’s in this simplicity where its complexity lies and why it’s ultra complicated to predict. Samper, as a player completely and exclusively raised at La Masía, knew which decisions were the best and had to be made. Like Busi.
Sergi, though, wasn’t quite the same as Sergio. The latter is more of a ‘classic’ (yet modern) DM, playing alongside two interiors who have to dictate and guide the team. By contrast, Samper was more of a number 4, the owner of the entire game. It basically was a role Cruyff invented for Guardiola, who previsely wore the n.4.
Moreover, Samper had something Busquets does not have: long passes. He had an exquisite distribution to find the forwards, which joined his sublime lecture when taking the ball from the back. He didn’t reproduce a move mechanically, but recognised when the opponents pressed them with 1, 2 or 3 attackers, when he had to act as a third centre-back, where his colleagues were positioned, etc.
Samper was pivot and regista. Pivot in terms of being very positional, measuring distances and making short intricate passes in build-ups. But regista for his ability to control the flow of the game through his passing, vision and through long balls. A deep-lying playmaker.
In terms of style, Samper was Guardiola plus Busquets. He was (is) unique, but we couldn’t take advantage of his immense talent and intellect. Eternal regret.
He’s still young, only 24, but I badly hope he becomes a coach one day and we can fully exploit his brilliant footballing brain.