Javier Mascherano says that he has woken up from a dream at Barcelona but the Argentinean needs to deliver in China to make the World Cup train
Seven-and-a-half-years at the club, 334 appearances and 18 major titles – Javier Mascherano calls time on his glittering Barcelona career but rather than a move to another European club or return to River Plate, the 33-year-old is all set to become the latest high-profile star to grace the Chinese Super League.
While those details are yet to be confirmed, Barcelona formally bid farewell to an emotional Mascherano at a media event on Wednesday before the Argentinean says goodbye to supporters at Thursday’s Copa del Rey second leg against Espanyol.
Masche is expected to sign for Chinese Super League club Hebei China Fortune, who are managed by Manuel Pellegrini, a coach that the midfielder knows well.
“The plan is that he comes. We have to see his situation at Barcelona, but he is a player that I am very interested in,” Pellegrini admitted in a recent interview.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 24, 2018
“I was the one who gave him his debut with River Plate.
“Mascherano is a leader and I think he would be very good for my team in the Chinese Super League.”
That certainly seems true. Despite Carlos Tevez providing reasons for Chinese football to be hesitant of offering an Argentinian a lucrative contract, Mascherano appears cut from very different cloth.
One characteristic that has remained throughout his career from youth level up to grizzled veteran has been his passion and commitment and there is no reason to suspect that that would change in China.
After almost eight years it will be with a heavy heart that Mascherano leaves the Camp Nou but ahead of this summer’s World Cup, El Jefecito wants to be playing and opportunities at Barça have decreased sharply.
— Javier Mascherano (@Mascherano) January 24, 2018
The signing of Samuel Umtiti in 2016 has proved an enormous success and Barcelona have added to their central defensive roster with the addition of Colombian Yerry Mina in this window so Mascherano was aware that his time was up.
The World Cup will be Mascherano’s Argentina swan song and the 33-year-old wants to arrive in good shape. While many may scoff at the suggestion that the Chinese Super League is the place to do that, Mascherano need only look at Barcelona teammate Paulinho to see that playing in this supposed footballing wilderness doesn’t necessarily spell the end.
Or at least not immediately.
Mascherano is under no illusion that his career is winding down and that is exactly why he has already said Russia will be his last international tournament. Where he fits into Jorge Sampaoli’s plans still isn’t entirely clear but given his experience and professionalism, a few months staying sharp in China prior to the World Cup shouldn’t do his level any harm.
Arriving at Barcelona in 2010 at the recommendation of Lionel Messi, few could have predicted Mascherano’s impact at the Camp Nou. Since making his senior Argentina debut before appearing in the River Plate first team, from his brief spell at West Ham to his successful stint with Liverpool, Masche was considered nothing more than a number five.
This is how he was still considered by the national team until Sampaoli, but Pep Guardiola discovered Mascherano, the centre back and he has since been excellent in both roles.
All five Barcelona managers to have managed Mascherano: Guardiola, Tito VIlanova, Tata Martino, Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde, have all tended to utilise the Argentinian in the back four while for La Albiceleste he remained steadfastly as the side’s five until Sampaoli.
Will that still be the case in Russia and how will Pellegrini now view him in China?
The second part of that question might be evident shortly with Mascherano expected to join up with the Hebei China Fortune squad at the end of the month in Marbella before the start of the Super League season in March.
While Lionel Messi might have been instrumental in Mascherano’s arrival at the Camp Nou, El Jefecito will be reunited with another old friend in China, Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Lavezzi’s Argentina hopes all but ended with Sampaoli but Mascherano has a little bit more to give. Four La Liga titles, four Copa del Reys, two Champions Leagues and two Club World Cups, Mascherano has given so much to the Blaugrana.
He departs midway through a possible treble season but the proud Argentinian would likely trade them all for success in Russia. Barcelona were able to give their little chief a send-off this week with memories of numerous titles and Argentina hope to do the same in July.