Will China be a ‘holiday’ for Javier Mascherano, like it was for his old teammate Carlos Tevez?
Fans of Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune have reason to be wary of their new star signing after his former national and club teammate Tevez took Shanghai Shenhua for a money-spinning ride
As Barcelona gave Javier Mascherano an emotional farewell ceremony after seven-and-a-half years at the club, there were tears, and there were hugs.
And there was an evident truth he wouldn’t be leaving for China if he didn’t have to.
“I had been thinking about this for some time,” the Argentine, who won 18 major trophies at the Camp Nou, said in front of his current and former teammates.
“I didn’t have the same strength that I had before to keep fighting for a place in the starting line-up. Sometimes you need to reset and to start over and seek new challenges in different places.”
Once an automatic first pick, Mascherano had lost his starting place at Barcelona to Samuel Umtiti, with manager Ernesto Valverde also bringing in 23-year-old Colombian centre back Yerry Mina this month.
Time to throw in the towel. Turn off the lights.
“As time passed, it was becoming clear that I was losing space as a protagonist and everything was becoming harder for me,” said Mascherano.
“Before putting the club in a position to make a decision and risk ending things in a bad way, I decided to reach a solution that was satisfactory for both parts.”
His new wage packet at Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune will undoubtedly be satisfactory to the 33-year-old. Not that we know precisely how much he will be raking in – Hebei and Barca have refused to disclose the financial details of the deal.
Mascherano pictured with his new Hebei China Fortune jersey. pic.twitter.com/oObGQ6DaLj
— FC Barcelona (@BarcaUniversal) January 24, 2018
Perhaps Hebei are a bit wary of a Carlos Tevez-style backlash from fans, should Mascherano lead them on a moneyed merry little dance like his fellow Argentine did with Shanghai Shenhua last season.
With two Champions League titles and four league titles at Barca, the defensive midfielder turned centre back is an astute capture for Hebei manager Manuel Pellegrini on paper.
But Shenhua fans thought they would be buying the Chinese Super League title with the reported US$40 million they shelled out to Tevez last season, only for him to score four goals in 20 games before his contract was terminated a year early by mutual consent.
Mascherano had only signed a contract extension at Barcelona until 2019 just last year but opted to head for the mainland over a move back to boyhood club River Plate in Argentina.
Sound a bit familiar? Hebei fans might be a bit wary after Tevez joked he was on “holiday” for seven months in China at Shanghai Shenhua before returning to his hometown side, Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires this month.
It was Mascherano who first came to Europe with Tevez in 2006, both signed by West Ham from Corinthians in Brazil as part of a dodgy third-party ownership deal that earned the London club a £5.5 million (US$7.84 million) fine and almost cost them their English Premier League status.
At least Mascherano has shown a bit more loyalty in his career. While Tevez flitted between Manchester clubs, fell out with managers and pined for a return to Boca, Mascherano was a stalwart in Liverpool’s midfield for three-and-a-half seasons before a dream move to Barcelona in 2010.
He is also Argentina’s second-most capped player with 141 appearances and is set to overtake Javier Zanetti’s record at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Compare that to 76 caps for Tevez, who was exiled from the national side for three years including the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by manager Alejandro Sabella after he decided the striker wasn’t worth the hassle when he already had Lionel Messi.
Playing for his country clearly means a lot to Mascherano, and so did playing for his club.
Hebei fans should take heart that Mascherano clearly has a much better attitude on and off the pitch than Tevez.
But there should be a fear at the back of their minds that Mascherano might just be laughing all the way to the bank, too, with a quick holiday payday before finding the first flight back to Argentina.
His farewell words to Barcelona were eloquent, but no boy from the Argentinian barrios ever dreamed of pulling on the shirt of Hebei China Fortune, which should leave the club’s fans wary of Mascherano’s motivation.