In the 90th minute, as Arjen Robben raced through the center of Argentina’s defence, the stage was set. Putting an end to the demons of four years ago, where his failure to beat Iker Casillas one-on-one in the World Cup final cost his team the trophy, Robben was now ready for redemption. But it did not happen. Javier Mascherano, sprinting as if there was no tomorrow, raced using all of the energy left in his muscles to make the last-ditch challenge. Mascherano put his body on the line at a time when most players feel exhausted. This challenge did not just save his team, but also personified Mascherano as a player. Lionel Messi may have won the tournament’s Golden Ball award, but it could be argued that he was not even the best player on the Argentina team. Moving on to half-time in extra time of the semi-final on July 9, 2014, Mascherano gave his side’s team-talk, while Messi stood off to the side.
Mascherano was one of the key players in Argentina’s run to the World Cup final. Argentina’s team was well-known in attacking talent, boasting the likes of Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, and Sergio Aguero to compliment Messi, but questions remained of the side’s defence. While Pablo Zabaleta has established himself as one of Europe’s top right-backs at Manchester City, the same cannot be said for the rest of the defence. Ezequiel Garay is rather underrated, but the likes of Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo, and Martin Demichelis are far from world-class. Romero was especially questioned before the tournament, as he spent most of the season at French side AS Monaco on the bench. And while all of these players performed well for Argentina, Mascherano played a key role for his side’s keeping of clean sheets in all of the knockout rounds, until Mario Götze’s goal in extra-time of the final.
However, Mascherano faced some struggles before reaching the spotlight. In the summer of 2006, with some of the top clubs around Europe giving attention to him, Mascherano signed for West Ham United. During his time at the club, Mascherano rarely featured for the team, prompting a transfer away from the club the very next January to Liverpool. Here, Mascherano truly showed his capabilities. Forming a partnership alongside Xabi Alonso at the base of Liverpool’s midfield, Mascherano fit in immediately, with the maturity of the player being applauded. He was part of the Liverpool team that reached the Champions League Final of 2007, only to be beaten deservedly by A.C. Milan. In the final, Mascherano was the best Liverpool player, with his objective being to stifle the influence of Kaka. With Liverpool in free-fall in 2010, Mascherano moved to F.C. Barcelona. Here, once again, Mascherano suffered some tough times, as he spent a large portion of his first season at the Catalan giants on the bench. However, as the season progressed, injuries to club captain Carles Puyol and a lack of center-back reinforcements saw Mascherano start as Barcelona’s first-choice center-back alongside Gerard Pique. He started and completed the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final in the center-back position, showing the versatility in his game. Following his first season at the club, Mascherano has been a mainstay in the Barcelona team at center-back, consistently putting in good performances. At times, his height has caused some problems in the defence, but larger problems have been due to the declining form of Gerard Pique and Dani Alves, as well as the inconsistent form of Victor Valdes.