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Javier Mascherano is One Of World Soccer’s Underrated Defenders

Helder Postiga (L), Javier Mascherano (R)

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.

As Barcelona began the 2014-2015 season in spectacular fashion, beating teams without conceding goals, they were expected to beat PSG in their Champions League opener. PSG had not started well in Ligue 1, as they drew multiple games away to start their season. The match finished 3-2 to PSG, which showed that Barcelona still have some work to do. On the night, Barcelona had conceded three goals, with one being blamed directly on goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter-Stegen. One player who had not performed well on the night was Sergio Busquets, who failed to protect the Barcelona defense properly.

Mascherano, playing at center-back, performed well on the night. Many on the night called for Busquets to be benched and for Mascherano to be moved into Barcelona’s defensive midfield position. Busquets’ form has dropped in the past year or so, while Mascherano is getting better and better at an age where defensive midfielders and central defenders peak. At the age of 30, center-backs and defensive midfielders hold a complete mixture of experience and athletic ability. Andrea Pirlo is a good example of a deep-lying midfielder peaking performing superbly at and after the age of 30, while John Terry performed very well last season, at the age of 33 as a center-back and had a great season for Chelsea in the 09-10 season, when he was 29.

Javier Mascherano’s superb performances at the 2014 World Cup, where he led the team, especially in the knockout rounds, should not be undermined. With Messi’s scoring drying up after the group stages, Mascherano played as the team’s midfield general and was the vocal leader of the team. As a player who puts the game of football before his life, Mascherano suffered a concussion in Argentina’s semi-final against Holland, yet continued playing on. Performing a game-saving tackle on Robben, Mascherano suffered the unique injury of tearing his anus.

The World Cup is just one of the many platforms on which Mascherano has performed well. Mascherano’s commitment is never in question, and his performances at center-back, not his main position, at Barcelona show the character of the player. All too often, Mascherano has performed at a very high level without receiving the plaudits he deserves. Due to this, I would like to commend Mascherano, hoping that true followers of football will understand that he is the type of character the game nowadays often lacks, but will always need.

Follow Saad on Twitter at @PrezunesRashid

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mufc77

    October 15, 2014 at 10:23 am

    He always was underrated in my opinion going back to his Liverpool days. Torres wouldn’t be scoring 30 goal a season back then if Mascherano was doing all the hard work in midfield allowing Gerrard to at further forword.

  2. Pakapala

    October 15, 2014 at 10:18 am

    I can still remember the criticism and laughter from most of the brittish media when they found out Barcelona was starting Mascherano in defense.

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