FC Barcelona has on Tuesday announced that the club is parting ways with Javier Mascherano, who is expected to leave for China on Wednesday.
Javier Mascherano arrived at FC Barcelona to play in defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets’ subsidiary capacity, but soon enough established himself as one of the club’s most significant servants. Mascherano, a defensive midfielder himself, signed from English club Liverpool – a club which he did not benefit from substantially.
His influx at Barcelona in 2010 was backed by two of the most influential individuals at the club – coach Pep Guardiola and compatriot Lionel Messi – both of whom believed in Mascherano’s capabilities to rejuvenate himself at the Camp Nou after a couple of unsuccessful spells in England with West Ham and then Liverpool.
Initially, Mascherano did not receive many opportunities to showcase his football-ing genius. Sergio Busquets was, and has always been at the peak of his powers, and to replicate what the Spanish defensive midfield maestro does is not everyone’s cup of tea, not even Mascherano’s. Fortunately for the Argentine, Barcelona’s defensive backline had vacancies available.
Barcelona captain, Carles Puyol, was aging and consistently injured. Barcelona needed Puyol’s backup in someone just as composed, calculated, strong and on top of that, someone with a similar leadership caliber. Of course, there were doubters. The entire idea of playing Mascherano in a defensive role, a more central one, was difficult to digest for many. Guardiola even received criticism for putting Mascherano in Puyol’s shoes – a pair of shoes which Mascherano could definitely wear, but would fit him so perfectly remains unbelievable to date even at Barca fans’ wildest stretch of imagination.
Soon enough, Mascherano was no more a mere second fiddle, he was the foremost figure alongside Gerard Pique for the second half of the 2010-11 season. Guardiola called Mascherano his “little sunshine” in one of the post-match interviews that season, and it was Pep’s magic wand that transformed a reckless tackler into a clinical, unbreakable wall. His best moment that year came in a double-legged tie against Arsenal in UEFA Champions League round-of-16 fixture.
Barcelona were leading 3-1 at Camp Nou, with a brace from Lionel Messi and a goal from midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez. Late into the second half, Barcelona made an uncharacteristic defensive slip-up, giving Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner a one-on-one opportunity against Barca’s shotstopper Victor Valdes. Before Bendtner could make a move, Mascherano slid-in and robbed him off the ball and Arsenal off a spot in the quarter-finals.
To put Mascherano’s tackle against Arsenal in his own words: “That moment marked me. If Bendtner had controlled the ball and gone the other way, he’d have got away from me. I don’t know what would’ve happened. But it happened the way it happened and we ended up winning that Champions League. Things worked out well.”
Had it been a goal, Arsenal would have qualified. Barcelona and the world of football would have been deprived of the master-class at Wembley against Manchester United in the UCL 2011 final, which the Blaugranas went on to claim after an overwhelming performance. Mascherano, partnered with Pique at the centre of the defence and showcased his defensive repertoire convincingly once more.
From that day on, Mascherano never looked back. He became the backbone of Barcelona’s defensive skeleton and provided them with subtle stability that they lacked with Pique’s inconsistency for the next many years.
Fast forward eight years: Mascherano has made sure, through his dedication, hardwork and commitment to Barcelona over the course of these years, that he leaves an unparalleled legacy for himself. He has undoubtedly been Barcelona’s leader without an armband. The Argentine has always stepped up and lead from the front when the club needed him the most. There was not a single moment when Mascherano was lethargic or overwhelmed with ennui of having been doing the same thing over and over again. He would serve Barcelona against third tier teams the same way he would perform against the world’s best.
But everything, every good thing, has an end.
Samuel Umtiti’s youthful inclusion to Barcelona last season, accompanied by the Frenchman’s decisive performances meant a new sun is rising over the Camp Nou, and to make way for Umtiti, an aging ray of Guardiola’s sunshine in Mascherano had to set. Barca would surely miss the experience and leadership qualities of the Argentine, but their future remains in safe hands.
Harvey Dent, one of the main characters of Christopher Nolan’s movie Batman: The Dark Knight quoted: You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
Mascherano, for Barcelona, sure has left a hero.
Watch FC Barcelona’s tribute to the Argentine