When Javier Mascherano takes to the Camp Nou pitch on Thursday evening shortly before Barcelona’s Copa del Rey second leg match with Espanyol, it will be for the last time as a member of the Barça playing squad.
After just shy of seven and a half years with the Catalan club he is moving on to fresh pastures, with rumors suggesting that Hebei Fortune of the Chinese Super League will be his next destination.
At 33 years of age, it’s safe to say that “El Jefecito” has done it all during an illustrious career that has spanned five clubs over four different countries.
His accomplishments during his spell in Catalonia include four La Liga titles, four Copa del Rey triumphs, two Champions League winners medals and two UEFA Super Cups.
A stellar haul indeed.
A native of San Lorenzo, Santa Fe in Argentina, Mascherano began his footballing journey with Buenos Aires giants Club Atlético River Plate. Debuting at 19 years old, he went on to play 46 times for Los Millonarios before a $15 million transfer saw him make the move to Sporting Club Corinthians of Brazil, where he would team up with fellow Argentine Carlos Tevez for the first time.
Before his move to Brazil, there was widespread interest in Mascherano from Europe, notably Deportivo de La Coruña and Real Madrid. Although neither club was able to secure his signature, Mascherano would eventually find his way to Spain later on in his career.
His time at Corinthians was fraught with injury, as he suffered a stress fracture in his foot causing him to miss six months of action and the rest of the Brazilian season. He still won a Brazilian Série A championship medal, however, which would be the only honor he’d pick up during his short stay in São Paulo.
The following season didn’t go well for Corinthians, as they battled against relegation and shortly before the European summer transfer window closed both Mascherano and fellow Argentine team-mate Carlos Tevez were transferred to English Premier League club West Ham United.
This move shocked many inside the game, as both players had been linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the case of Mascherano.
Mascherano’s time in East London was largely forgettable, as he joined West Ham during a time of struggle for the club and he rarely featured under head coach Alan Pardew or his replacement Alan Curbishley.
During the January transfer window fellow Premier League club Liverpool made a move to take Mascherano to Anfield on loan, with FIFA approving the deal on January 31st despite some doubt that the transfer would happen at all.
Throughout his time in East London, both Mascherano and Tevez were the subject of a lot of speculation over who actually owned the registration of both players. It was later determined that the rights to Mascherano were held by Mystere Services and Global Soccer Agencies (which later rebranded as Rio Football Services).
This situation resulted in a delay of Mascherano’s loan move to Liverpool, and would later result in West Ham being charged in relation to rule breaking due to third party ownership of a player and fined over $7 million.
Just over two weeks later the loan transfer of Mascherano to Liverpool was finally rubber-stamped, and the player was free to continue his career at one of European football’s true giants.
At the young age of 22, Mascherano had finally arrived.
At Liverpool, Mascherano would start to cultivate the reputation of a tactically aware player who was mature for a player in his early 20s.
One week short of his first year anniversary as a Liverpool player Mascherano officially signed for the club permanently for a sum in the region of $25 million.
Despite Liverpool winning no major honors during his time at the club (the closest that he came to winning a trophy was the 2007 Champions League final which Liverpool lost to AC Milan), the fans held El Jefecito in high regard, creating a chant for him in recognition of his no-nonsense, intelligent play in midfield.
When Liverpool dismissed Rafa Benítez, the manager who had brought Mascherano to the club and who had shown faith in him throughout his time at Anfield, a change looked to be on the cards.
After the 2010 World Cup Mascherano told new Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson that he wanted to leave, and the plans were set in motion that would see him make the move to Barcelona for a fee of around $23 million.
His first season at the club saw him win both the Champions League and La Liga, as he played a crucial role in the heart of the Barcelona midfield.
It was also during this spell that he was deployed in central defense, which surprised many onlookers due to his short stature.
This move was to prove a masterstroke, however, as he went into his second season playing almost exclusively in that role, where his intelligence and ability to read the game more than made up for any physical shortcomings he may have had in comparison to others who play in that position.
The trophies won during his first season were a sign of what was to come for both Mascherano and the club, as he went on to star in the historical Barça side that has completed two landmark trebles of their domestic league title and cup as well as the Champions League.
Coupled with an outstanding international career for his native Argentina which has seen him play over 140 times over a span of 14 years, including three Copa America tournaments and three World Cups, his personal and team honors set him apart as one of the best footballers to play the game over the past decade.
Wherever El Jefecito ends up playing his football next, he’ll surely be remembered fondly by Blaugrana fans the world over as part of possibly the greatest side to ever play the game.
Gràcies and adéu, Javier.