Javier Mascherano could be the most important player in the Argentina squad and even though he won’t get the headlines like Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero, their hopes of winning the World Cup could depend on how well he plays.
The midfielder will play just in front of the back four allowing the more attacking players to go and do what they do best with the knowledge that one of the best ball winners in Europe is protecting their defence. It is a job that only a few players can effectively do and Mascherano is one of the best at it.
The 30 year old began his career at River Plate and in his first season he won the Clausura Championship and also helped the club reach the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores, unfortunately they lost to rivals Boca Juniors on penalties. Several European clubs tried to sign Mascherano at this time, including Real Madrid but River decided to keep that player for another season. However, this one was less successful as they struggled in the league and once again lost in the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores.
In 2005 he did leave the Argentinean side for Corinthians in Brazil but he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot which meant after just nine games he would not play again that season. After six months out he returned to a struggling side who were battling relegation and although his performances were still very high, the team were struggling. After just 28 games for the club, one of the most bizarre transfer happened in world football as he and Carlos Tevez joined West Ham. Mascherano did not have the same impact as Tevez and he only played 15 league games for the Hammers and in Janauary 2007 he was on the move once again.
Liverpool signed him and he made his debut against Sheffield United on the 24th February in a 4-0 win and was praised by manager Rafael Benitez. “He is young but he has great experience having played for his country. It’s clear that he is one of the best midfielders in the world but he can get better with us.” Mascherano and Xabi Alonso’s partnership in the centre of midfield was a key part of Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final.
In 2008 he signed a new four year deal and within a month he scored his first Premier League goal with a 20 yard strike against Reading. The 2009-10 season was a little harder for the hard tackler as he picked up two red cards during the season and had the worst disciplinary record in the league but he was considered undroppable when available and he was quickly becoming a fans favourite. However, after the 2010 World Cup he told new manager Roy Hodgson that he wanted to leave the club.
In August 2010 he joined Barcelona and his time there did not start well as his league debut ended in a 2-0 defeat to newly promoted Hercules at home. It was a difficult first season at the Spanish club with a lot of his early appearances being as a substitute and then in the second half of the season playing out of position as a central defender. But he performed well in this position, especially in the Champions League and he started the 2011 final alongside Gerard Pique and helped his team to a 3-1 win over Manchester United. Since then he has played most of his games in defence and has been a consistent performer for the team and even though he is not the tallest, he has never let the team down.
He is yet to score for Barcelona in his 184 appearances but he is a valued member of the team and this summer was awarded a new contract keeping him at the club until 2018.
His teammates know how important he is and the final word can go to Lionel Messi. “He has turned into a fundamental player for us. He hasn’t had a bad game for us since Guardiola put him in the middle of the defence.”