I felt guilty. Geez, he is probably tired of the question, at age 18. But it is the responsible reporter question to ask… “Gianluca, when will you make the move to play in Europe?”
Like a renowned, yet aging singer/musician who tires of being ask when he or she will retire and rest on his or her laurels, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Gianluca Busio’s answer seems to be near ‘I’m not ready yet.’
In 2020, Busio went from tantalizing bit player (10 of 34 games started in 2019) to bona fide starter. The North Carolina native started 15 of 21 games, appearing in 19, garnering 1 goal and 3 assists.
“The season was a tough time for everyone with COVID. But it was a really big year for my development. I learned a lot,” he reflected in a phone interview last Friday. “My goal is always to improve from the previous year, increase my impact, improve my game. Those are the things I want to do more. We came up short, but it was a good year.”
In fact, the season was monumental for Busio. He is now an in-the-trenches teammate. In those 15 starts, Busio learned the minutiae and responsibilities of being a regular comrade in arms, especially when playing the integral #6 wherein being a boss on both sides of the ball is a requirement, not just a job description.
An emergency move in the wake of Ilie Sanchez’s absence, Busio’s insertion at the #6 opened eyes. Matt Doyle, the mlssoccer.com “armchair analyst” believes this is where Busio’s true future lies. And he may be right. Busio’s vision, calmness on the ball under pressure, efficient touches to space, and his ability to strike from distance are all highlighted in the pivot of holding midfield.
Yet, Busio has always been focused on the attack. He soaked up every move of the Italian born, Spanish international playmaker Thiago when he was with Bayern Munich. Every nuance of Eden Hazard at Chelsea. He was a fan of Inter Milan “when they were good” he joked.
After Sanchez returned, a newly aware Busio stepped back into the hybrid #8/10 and sometimes winger for Sporting Kansas City the rest of the way. In Sporting’s first playoff match, he became the youngest player in MLS playoff history to tally an assist and a goal – a dramatic should-have-been-match-winner – in the 3-3 contest eventually won in a penalty shootout. The youngin’ is prime time.
So the question. The one that began with rumors when he was just 15, ones that have only increased. ‘Gianluca, when will you be heading to Europe?’
“It’s difficult to say. It’s definitely a possibility. It’s my goal,” said Busio, who holds an Italian passport via his Italian father. “Yet, I can’t put a timeline on it. When it’s the right place, the right spot, I will go.”
But soon… ish, convergence. Though Sporting exercised their option on Busio’s contract for 2021 and hold another for 2022, his market value is climbing. The fact that Busio is now more seasoned, but still young enough to be malleable, has to be appealing to his bigger suitors.
“If I stay, I’ll be happy. I have developed so much here,” he said. “[Sporting KC Manager] Peter [Vermes] has done a lot for me. I’m not in a rush. But Europe is [the dream].”
It is conceivable, however, that Sporting could re-sign Busio to another guaranteed contract. His diversity is valuable to them in this uncertain time. And even though he disappeared in the 3-0 loss to Minnesota United in the next playoff match, and his two free-kicks failed to beat the wall, his qualities are not readily found domestically and not easily afforded on the international market.
And Busio wants Sporting to be part of the decision: “It’s a group effort with my agent; my family impacts the decision. But I’ve been away from them for a while. So that’s not a concern. Everyone supports me.”
“It’s also up to Sporting Kansas City. I am their investment; they developed me. And I feel I owe them. If Sporting thinks it is best for me to stay, and my agent agrees. I will stay. If it’s right, all will be on board.”
Perhaps Busio realizes he is sought after, desired more than ever by his current club, and increasingly embraced by its fans, just as he has begun to entrench himself with the first team.
Busio’s next step in the United States is to gain his first cap for the senior U.S. National Team. Because Kansas City was in the playoffs, Busio was not an option for U.S. Manager Gregg Berhalter’s latest roster against El Salvador. But the January U.S. camp usually features many MLS players.
Here, too, Busio’s in-the-moment, grounded attitude arises, “If the chance comes, it comes.”
For now, Busio will spend much of the offseason seeing his family. Where he may be fending off the more common repetitive questions reserved for an 18-year-old. Or maybe not…