El Jefecito – Argentina’s Little Chief

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always admired defensive midfielders. Edgar Davids was one of my idols growing up. People say I hate football because I like Gattuso and Nigel de Jong .The defensive midfield position is the core of any team. Argentina’s Mascherano has also made his name by ‘breaking’ teams attacks

His former national team coach Diego Maradona was the best footballer in the world and his current Barcelona and national teammate Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, but Javier Mascherano (27) is Argentina’s leader. The Albicelestes future no longer lies in the hands of a creative midfielder. Argentina’s Copa America and World Cup glory now lies in the hands of a defensive midfielder.Their Copa America campaign kicks off on July 1 against Bolivia and Mascherano aims to end Argentina’s title drought.

Not wonder kid Lionel Messi or Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain. Neither goalkeeper Sergio Romero nor Carlos Tevez was made captain. When Maradona became Argentina’s coach he quickly spotted the defensive midfielder Javier Alejandro Mascherano. El Diego said “My Argentina is Mascherano and ten others’’.

Mascherano’s two most used nicknames in Argentina are Masche and El Jefecito (The little chief). Former Argentine footballers Jorge Valdano and Jorge Solari regard him as possibly the best central midfielder in the world. He was considered a key part of the national side by past coach Diego Maradona who stated that his team was just Jonás, Mascherano, Messi and eight more.

The 1.74m footballer is not one of the tallest and biggest midfielders around. He’s not blessed with Lionel Messi’s skills, Masche just plays it simple and he scores very rarely (2 goals in 68 appearances for Argentina), but Masche is still the chef of the Argentine team. Mascherano controls the balance in the midfield and dictates the rhythm of the game. Mascherano does not fit in the tradition of Argentina’s elegant and skilful midfielders like Maradona,Ortega,Aimar and Riquelme. The midfielder knows his qualities and sees himself in a defensive midfielder of international stature: Claude Makelele. Matias Almeyda and Diego Simeone have also been important in the development of Javier’s career.

Mascherano has represented Argentina at two FIFA World Cups and two Copa Americas. He made his national team debut at the age of nineteen, in 2003 in a friendly match against neighbours Uruguay. It’s a debut Mascherano will never forget because he had not even played for the first team of his club River Plate before. His impact at youth levels was such that he made his senior international debut before playing a single minute for River Plate’s first team (due to his central midfield position at club level being occupied by River’s long standing captain Leonardo Astrada, nicknamed the Chief).

Marcelo Bielsa, the then-now coach of Chile, selected the midfielder based on his performances during the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2003. Mascherano was the most important player of the team as they finished fourth. Bielsa was looking for such a player and this marked the beginning of an already impressive career. Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said his pupil was the best defensive midfielder in the world.

In 2006, during the World Cup in Germany, Mascherano was part of the Argentine team that lost to the host in the quarterfinals. He was unknown in Europe before the 2006 FIFA World Cup.He was playing in South America and had no idea what it would be like to play against guys like Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack. But the last five years he has played week in week out against the best footballers in the world.

In 2008, Mascherano was selected to represent Argentina in the Olympic Games in Beijing as one of their over-23 year old players. He was thrilled at the call up saying “It’s important for any athlete to defend the gold medal. I might be the only person from my country ever to do it and I’ll go down in history.” Argentina won the tournament making Mascherano only the second Argentine sportsman ever (following polo player Juan Nelson) to win two Olympic gold medals in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

Argentina had a difficult 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign and escaped with two Houdini-acts (Harry Houdini). First the blonde veteran Martin Palermo kept Argentina in the World Cup race by scoring deep into injury time against Peru (2-1). Argentina then won the El Clasico Rioplatense in Montevideo defeating Forlan’s Uruguay (1-0), thus booking the tickets to South Africa.

On 28 August 2010, he agreed terms on a four-year deal contract with Barcelona for £22 million making it his 3rd European club in 4 years. West Ham United was his first European club. After 2 years at River Plate Mascherano was set to join an European side but surprised everyone by moving to neighbours Brazil. After the Confederations Cup in Germany, Corinthians offered fifteen million euros. In his first year he won the Brazilian title, but a season later the club was struggling to stay in the Serie A. After the World Cup in Germany, the top European clubs were after him.MSI, which had his transfer rights sold Mascherano and Tevez to West Ham.

While Tevez had quickly adjusted to life in West Ham, Mascherano found it difficult. Six months later, he was heading for the exit. Unusual contract terms with Media Sports Investments blighted his brief time at the club and at the beginning of 2007 he joined Liverpool on loan. It took some time before he was declared eligible to play. In February 2008, Mascherano finally joined Liverpool after they bought his rights. The club paid 19 million euros.

On 30 August 2010, Mascherano passed his medical to complete his transfer to Barça, and told Barça TV “All is fair in fair and love”. He made his league debut on 11 September 2010, starting in a home 2–0 defeat against recently promoted Hércules CF, marking the first defeat at the Camp Nou for 16 months. Mascherano had a mixed season at the Camp Nou, spending the first half of the season mainly coming off the bench but for the latter part playing out of position in a Center Back role. On 28 May 2011, Mascherano started alongside Gerard Pique in the 2011 Champions League Final against Manchester United. Barcelona went on to win the game 3-1.

Barca will probably be his last club in Europe, because Mascherano wants to end his career at home.But now is aim is to become a South American champion and then think of winning the World Cup in Brazil.

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