It is a slight overreaction to claim Javier Mascherano’s footballing career was on a road to ruin in 2007. The romantics are quick to state that without Liverpool’s intervention the Argentine would have rotted in West Ham‘s reserve set-up. The reality is, the midfield general would have scarpered come the close of a wretched campaign and rebuilt his reputation in Europe or South America. Yet at the time, when an immediate escape route looked as likely as a clothed image of Parish Hilton, the reds provided sanctuary.
Mascherano, then merely cover to Hayden Mullins, Nigel Quashie and -believe it or not – Christian Daily, duly clutched this lifeline and began afresh in England.
Nobody could question his proceeding impact. A tenacious appetite, coupled with remarkable work-rate and a fiery temper, quickly endeared him to the Kop. An immediate lynchpin of the side, he produced excellent displays throughout that season’s run-in.
A defining performance came against Chelsea in the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final. As he crashed into the likes of Lampard and Essien that night, it seemed amazing to think this man had actually been languishing in the Hammers’ ‘ressies’ weeks beforehand. Low-key outings at Bishop’s Stortford FC were very much a thing of the past as Masch found his level.
And a honeymoon period certainly unfolded. Supporters hold the kind of player who hunts possession and smashes into tackles with great affection. The Chief’s consistency saw-off Momo Sissoko and earned him the mantle of Rafa Benitez’s on-field general. In time, he even threatened to dispel the media’s mythical ‘two-man-team’ assertion.
But as popular as Masch had become, his love-affair with many fans disintegrated twelve months ago. Reports claimed he was ‘flirting’ with Barcelona in the understatement of the century. Indeed, he might as well have been stripped naked and chained to the Nou Camp such was his blatant want to join the Catalans.
Inevitably, the ‘unsettled wife’ theme was chimed as our midfield dynamo pimped himself out to the all conquering Spaniards.
To his obvious disappointment the purported move was blocked and he found himself back at Melwood for the coming season. From that moment on his attitude reeked of unprofessionalism. Previous performance levels dropped two-fold and failed to reignite until the New Year. From August through to October he seemed visibly unhappy with his surroundings, mooching around the field in a world of his own.
To be fair, from Christmas onwards he enjoyed a second-wind and a decent draw to the campaign but the damage had been done, well and truly.
Though talk of new deal arose I did not for one second believe any would manifest (see my last article). Mascherano had already proven himself to be totally disloyal and was destined to depart.
Sure enough, he revelled in this the most awkward of summers. Swanning home from the World Cup and embracing the diapering man act was disgraceful. So too was his refusal to even acknowledge Roy Hodgson. Whatever his grievances, his new manger surely deserved some kind of recognition.
Then, as if to exaggerate his bad apple status, he marched into Melwood on Monday with a representative in-tow. By all accounts the pair headed straight for Hodgson’s office to inform them of his desire to leave.
And that begs the question; is there any loyalty in the modern game? As I pointed-out at the top of this piece, Liverpool did not save Mascherano’s career outright but they went some way towards repairing it. Are they not owed some kind of payback in a time of need? Perhaps it’s naive to believe in that kind of sentiment nowadays.
If, as seems certain, the unsettled midfielder departs – it must be on our terms. Player-power may dominate the modern game but a two year contract remains in place. Yes, an informal transfer request has been lodged, but unless our valuation is met no deal should transpire.
Benitez set himself up for a fall last season when announcing Mascherano was worth in excess of £50m. Now, as the bidder, he must mount serious funds to prize his man. The aforementioned fee may be unrealistic but something approaching the £30m mark must be generated. Monster Masch has made life very difficult for us in recent months, now the boot is on the other foot.
How ironic would it be if no deal was struck and he was again made to squirm in the reserves in a classic case of déjà vu…
Nevertheless, if any sum is plunged back into improving the squad this move could be best all-round. Undeniable is the fact that of all our valuable assets; Masch is the dispensible one.
The loyalty conundrum also applies to Fernando Torres. For all his heroics since joining the club, these past two seasons have been injury ravaged, to put it mildly. We have paid the price in two very different manners. In 2008/09 his absence conceivably cost us the title, while last term his anonymity hindered any attempts to salvage a top four finish. Of course, he cannot be blamed for a succession of injuries but you cannot help but feel we are owed at least one more year.
If Torres loves the club as much as he’s intimated, he will not abandon ship now it’s all hands on deck. Instead he will follow the lead of the only remaining loyalists I see in football.
Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have reaffirmed their commitment to the Reds in contrasting fashions. There was never talk of Carra leaving; essentially because everyone knows he is a one club man. Stevie meanwhile, though perhaps tempted by one last opportunity to move abroad, has nailed his colours to the mast once again.
It’s that kind of commitment which elevates this pair to the status of true legends, ranking alongside the all-time greats. The whole squad must follow their lead as we head into 2010/11 – the start of new and unpredictable era.
It looks destined to be a dawn without Mascherano but I for one will be glad to see the back of him.