Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Later, chief

In one of those wonderful ironies football throws up, Javier Mascherano rose to prominence as a Liverpool midfielder in Barcelona - February 2007, to be precise.

Before you dust off your programmes and overload the Argentine’s Wikipedia page, I’m well aware Mascherano made his Liverpool debut against Sheffield United, three days after our win in the Camp Nou.

But Sheffield United at Anfield in a Saturday 12.45 kick off wasn’t on the minds of the 5,000 or so of us about an hour from kick off on a brisk Barcelona evening. As we stared down the red and blue Catalonian canyon, Javier Mascherano’s name was intermittently mentioned between exclamations of how high up we were and egregious analysis of how Deco, Messi and Ronaldinho would run riot.

The drama with the Football Association regarding Mascherano's eligibility had finished unbeknownst to many of us in Barcelona without the shining light of Sky Sports News, their garish yellow ticker and the constant re-defining of what constitutes breaking news.

Word and excitement spread around the Camp Nou quickly. Rumours he was in the squad that night were unfounded, but regardless of that, a star was already born. Ignore the 'West Ham reject' label he'd been given in the press, Mascherano was one of the most exciting signings our generation had experienced, sandwiched somewhere in between Jari Litmanen and Stan Collymore.

It's almost poetic that Momo Sissoko enjoyed his best game for the club that night. It could almost be regarded as a passing of the torch. Thinking about it, it's probably the best pass Sissoko ever made in a red shirt.

Sissoko was a fantastic destroyer, but he was just as adept at destroying his own side's attacks with wayward passing. Mascherano could do the destroying and the passing. The signing of Mascherano was a sign of improvement and progression, much like when Torres replaced Bellamy that summer.

Over three years later, and the name of Javier Mascherano is being whispered around Camp Nou once more; this time, as a possible signing for the Catalan club after 'El Jefecito' finally told Roy Hodgson he wants to leave Liverpool. Roy would have been spared the wait if he'd lived on Merseyside the past year - it's been the worst kept secret in the city.

The eulogies were written well before Hodgson's confirmation, sadly. Some of our fanbase have a tremendous ability to perpetuate myths to suit agendas. People taint Rafa Benitez's transfer dealings to make him look a failure. Similarly, people question the likes of Insua, Kuyt and Lucas, accentuating the negatives and disregarding the positives.

It's already in full swing with Mascherano now, too. His distribution was poor, apparently, and his heart was never in the club. £25 million is a decent deal as well, since we only need him for games against those in the top six.

Those three myths are only bettered by that of Jermaine Pennant being our best player in Athens. A few runs down the right-hand side do not compare to the all-action performance of Mascherano, who kept Kaka quiet throughout. All this only four months after joining the club. The final was lost the second he left the pitch; Kaka, finally free from the San Lorenzo shackles, strode through the midfield to set up Inzaghi and Milan's second.

The sale of Javier Mascherano will hit the side harder than many think. The marauding Glen Johnson will not have his gaps plugged as effectively as last season. There was no finer sight last season than watching Masch galloping to wipe out an opposition winger who was proceeding with trepidation in front the Centenary stand. To liken him to Jaws would be clich├ęd and misrepresentative - Jaws didn't reach its target sometimes.

He was not without his faults. His anger at Rafa after being rested for the home game against Hull City last season left a sour taste, as did his constant glances towards Barcelona and Inter Milan; glances which now seem to be paying dividends. His effort and ability will be missed, especially when we will only see a portion of his transfer fee.

Which begs the final question: who are the winners of all this besides his future employers? It certainly isn't Liverpool Football Club nor its supporters. It can't be Mascherano's wife either; whose homesickness will not abate by moving a mere few hundred miles closer to Argentina.

Unfortunately, the big winners look to be Tom Hicks, George Gillett and Christian Purslow. Mascherano's desire to leave the club will mask the fact they will sell a world class player for £25 million and replace him with somebody half the price. Big sales are needed. This won't get the coverage Torres or Gerrard will for the simple fact Mascherano was vocal about his desire to leave and it's a departure that's been expected for a long time. It's a let-off for the Anfield lepers.

Much like how Mascherano's arrival was a sign, his departure is similar. Excitement has turned into lamentation; it's regression, not progression, that fans expect.

The club was taken over a mere two weeks before that balmy night in Barcelona (no, not that one, Tyldsley), and three years later, the mood of the club's supporters couldn't be different.

If Sissoko passed the torch to Mascherano that night, then consider Mascherano wildly flinging a flame-thrower at his successor, who tries his best to avoid it. Let's hope the rest of the squad doesn't go up in flames with him.