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Mascherano, Javier

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by Dave Usher

Date of Birth - 08/06/84
Nationality - Argentinian
Position - Centre Midfield
Games - 139
Goals - 2
Club Hons (Lpool) - None
Intnl Hons - Argentina Caps
Other Clubs - River Plate, Corinthians, West Ham, Barcelona

A full Argentinian international before he had even made his club debut for River Plate, Mascherano quickly became one of the most highly rated midfielders in world football. He came to prominence in the 2001 World u17 Championships, and starred again in 2003 in the World Youth Championships. His first full cap came that same year, and he played a starring role in the 2004 Olympic Games where Argentina were victorious.

Along with international team-mate Carlos Tevez, Javier joined Brazilian side Corinthians, whom he helped to the Brazilian league title in 2005. He starred for his country at the 2006 World Cup, and was one of the most sought after players in the world. Chelsea and Manchester United were both strongly linked with a move for him, but bizarrely he and Tevez ended up at West Ham United.

Neither made any impression with the struggling Hammers initially (Tevez would play a key role in their survival later in the season however), and Mascherano found himself left out in the cold completely, often failing to even secure a place on the subs bench. Juventus seemed to be on the verge of securing a deal to take him to Serie B, but then Rafa Benitez was alerted to his possible availability, and went to see the player at his London flat. He convinced him that Anfield was the best place for him, but having already played for Corinthians and West Ham in the same season, the reds needed to get special permission from FIFA to sign the player.

After protracted negotiations with FIFA Mascherano was given permission to join the reds, but his debut was further delayed as the Premier League decided to flex their muscles and look further into his registration and eligibility to play for Liverpool.

Clearance was eventually given in mid-February, and Mascherano officially joined the reds on an 18 month loan deal with a view to a permanent deal. The acquisition of such a highly rated player for such a small initial outlay proved to be a masterstroke by Benitez.

A tough tackling holding midfielder with a good range of passing, Mascherano was ideally suited to the way Benitez likes his teams to play. He settled into his stride very quickly and by the end of the season he was producing some collossal performances. He was fantastic in the CL semi final win over Chelsea at Anfield, covering every inch of the pitch in a lung busting display that earned him a standing ovation from the crowd when he replaced late in extra time. What made that performance even more impressive was that he was a yellow card away from missing the final.

If he'd impressed the fans in that semi final, it was nothing compared to the display he turned in against Kaka and AC Milan in Athens. The reds may have lost that game, but in Mascherano they had the best player on the field. The little Argentine refused to allow Kaka to influence the game, and completely nullified the threat of the brilliant Brazilian. It was only when 'El Jefe' was sacrificed late on as Benitez had to get more attacking players on, that Kaka began to have any kind of success.

Liverpool lost the final, but Mascherano had restored his reputation and Kopites knew they had a special player on their hands. That summer he helped Argentina reach the final of the Copa America, but once again there was heartbreak for the midfielder, as they were trounced 3-0 by Brazil. Mascherano had an impressive tournament, and even managed to get on the scoresheet twice.

His first goal for the reds didn't arrive until March of the following season, a rasping drive from 25 yards against Reading. Mascherano was called up to the Argentina squad for the Olympic games in the summer of 2008, meaning he missed the start of the season with his club. Argentina won the gold medal, which was Mascherano's second Olympic gold having also won it four years earlier.

His Olympic exploits took a toll on him though, and his form for the reds suffered for several months. He eventually returned to top form midway through the season, and he caught the eye of Spanish giants Barcelona, who wanted to take him to the Nou Camp in the summer of 2009. With Xabi Alonso joining Real Madrid, Benitez was desperate to keep hold of Mascherano and he succeeded, although the Argentina skipper was reportedly less than thrilled at missing out on the chance to join the European Champions.

Nevertheless, he continued to give his all for the reds, and even though as a team things didn't go well in 2009/10, Mascherano was consistently one of the better performers and never gave less than 100% effort. Barcelona retained their interest in him and speculation was rife all summer that the popular Argentine would be headed to Camp Nou, but the Catalans left it late before making a move and Mascherano began the season a Liverpool player, turning in a superb display against Arsenal on the opening day.

With time running out before the transfer window was due to close and Liverpool headed to Eastlands to face Manchester City, Mascherano felt he needed to force through his move and refused to play as he claimed he wasn't mentally right after the reds had turned down derisory offers from Barca and Inter Milan. That signalled the end of his time at Anfield, Mascherano was sold to Barca a few days later and what had been a good career at Liverpool ended on a sour note.

Despite not being a regular in the side, Javier would go on to win both the Spanish title and the Champions League in his first season, as Pep Guardiola's side humiliated Manchester United at Wembley. Mascherano's first words as he was interviewed on the pitch were to dedicate the win to Liverpool supporters as well as Barca's.

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