Javier Alejandro Mascherano is an Argentine professional footballer who plays as a defensive midfielder or centre-back for Argentina National Team. Nicknamed “El Jefecito” (“The Little Chief”), Mascherano is a versatile and tactically intelligent footballer, with an excellent ability to read the game and organise his team; he is known in particular for his leadership skills, passing accuracy, tough marking of opponents, and hard-tackling style of play. Mascherano began his career at River Plate, where he earned his first senior honours, the Primera División Argentina, in 2003–04. He moved to Brazilian side Corinthians in 2005, winning the Brazilian Série A in his first season. Mascherano then moved to Europe, signing for Premier League side West Ham United, but his brief time at the club was blighted by unusual contract terms with Global Soccer Agencies. At the beginning of 2007, he joined Liverpool on loan, reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League, before he signed with the club for £18.7 million. After three years playing for Liverpool, Mascherano joined Barcelona in 2010, where he changed his position of defensive midfielder to full central defender. With Barcelona, he won five La Liga championships, two UEFA Champions League titles, and two FIFA Club World Cups, among other honours. Mascherano made 147 appearances for the Argentina national team and is the most capped player in the country’s history. From his debut in 2003 until his retirement in 2018, he represented the nation at five Copa América tournaments, finishing runner-up in 2004, 2007, 2015, and 2016, and four FIFA World Cups, reaching the 2014 final. He twice won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, in 2004 and 2008, becoming the first male footballer to achieve this double feat since 1968. Between 2008 and 2011, Mascherano served as the captain of Argentina.
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On 28 August 2010, Mascherano agreed terms on a four-year deal contract with Barcelona for €24 million. On 30 August 2010, Mascherano passed his medical to complete his transfer to Barça, and told Barça TV, “The truth is it’s a dream, it’s a great joy.” He made his league debut on 11 September 2010, starting in a home 0–2 defeat against recently promoted Hércules, 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 centre-back role. On 28 May 2011, Mascherano started alongside Gerard Piqué in the 2011 Champions League final against Manchester United. Barcelona went on to win the game 3–1, with Mascherano dedicating the win to Liverpool fans, some of which he had upset during his move. In the run to the final, Mascherano denied Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner a certain goal with a sliding tackle towards the end of the second leg of the round of 16 match, which the Catalan side beat the Gunners 3–1, 4–3 on aggregate. In his second season, Mascherano played almost exclusively as a central defender, putting in consistent performances starting regularly for the team in defence. On 26 July 2012, Mascherano signed a contract extension with Barcelona, keeping him with the Catalan giants until 2016. His buyout clause was set at €100 million. On 7 June 2014, Mascherano signed an extension on his contract, tying him to the Catalan club until 2018 and keeping his buyout clause at €100 million. On 6 June 2015, Mascherano started for Barça in the 2015 Champions League final, as the club won its fifth European Cup/Champions League title by defeating Juventus at Berlin’s Olympiastadion. This made Barcelona the first club in history to win the treble of domestic league, domestic cup and European Cup/Champions League twice. On 27 July 2016, Mascherano signed a new contract with Barcelona, which will keep him at the club until 2019. On 26 April 2017, Mascherano scored his first goal for Barcelona, a penalty kick in a La Liga match against Osasuna. On 23 January 2018 Barça announced that Mascherano “is leaving FC Barcelona after seven and a half seasons.” On 24 January 2018, Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune announced the signing of Mascherano, which would be effective 2 days later. He scored his first goal for the club in a Chinese FA Cup against Shandong Luneng Taishan on 2 May 2018.
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Mascherano’s first international appearance came in 2001. September of that year saw him play on the Argentina team that finished fourth in the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Championship. Mascherano’s 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). That international debut came in a friendly against Uruguay on 16 July 2003. Halfway through the 2003–04 Apertura championship, Mascherano was called up to play in the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship. Argentina again finished fourth with Mascherano the team’s outstanding player. He was however suspended for the third place play-off. In January 2004, Mascherano joined up with Argentina’s Olympic team for the South American Pre-Olímpico tournament in Chile. Argentina won the tournament, thereby qualifying for the 2004 Summer Olympics. In August, Mascherano and the team went on to become gold medal-winners in Greece. At the end of the 2003–04 season, Mascherano was included in the Argentina senior squad for the 2004 Copa América. Argentina lost to Brazil on penalties in the final, but Mascherano impressed enough to be voted Argentina’s player of the tournament by his teammates. In the 2006 World Cup, Mascherano played every minute of every match for Argentina, with the team being eliminated by Germany in the quarter-finals. His first two goals for the senior Argentina team came in July 2007 during the 2007 Copa América. Mascherano’s performance at the tournament was such that he was widely selected as the best Argentine player in a squad full of stars. On 8 June 2008, Mascherano received his first red card for the national team after receiving two yellow cards in a match against the United States. He was sent off in the 86th minute of the match, which finished 0–0. Later that year, 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. Soon after being appointed head coach of Argentina in November 2008, Diego Maradona announced that he wanted Mascherano to be the team’s captain. “I want Mascherano to be my captain because I believe he is the Argentinian player who is closest to the idea I have about the Argentinian shirt – sweat for it, sacrifice for it, being a professional, being close to the team-mate,” Maradona said. “I will convince him. He will be my captain.” Mascherano was appointed the new Argentina captain on 10 November, replacing Javier Zanetti. At the 2010 World Cup, Argentina captained by Mascherano, reached the quarter-finals where they were again eliminated by Germany, 4–0. He only missed the last match of the group stage against Greece. Mascherano captained Argentina during the 2011 Copa América on home soil, but the team were defeated by Uruguay at the quarter-final stage. In August 2011, Mascherano was replaced as Argentina captain by Lionel Messi, who was appointed to the role by new manager Alejandro Sabella. Mascherano became vice-captain in the national squad. In the 2014 World Cup, Mascherano played his 100th international match for Argentina in a match against Iran, which la Albiceleste won 1–0. During the tournament, Messi wore the captain’s armband and commentators often described the team as Messi plus ten other players, however Mascherano was the squad’s de facto leader and midfield general. Mascherano asserted himself vocally, especially during the knockout rounds, where the media described him as Argentina’s best player after Messi’s prolific scoring stagnated after the group stage. During Argentina’s World Cup semi-final against the Netherlands, Mascherano was knocked unconscious by a header contested by Georginio Wijnaldum and was led off the pitch with a suspected concussion, although he resumed play moments later. In stoppage time, Mascherano tore his anus making a goal-saving slide tackle on Arjen Robben. Argentina would go on advance from the semi-final in a penalty shootout, with goalkeeper Sergio Romero saving kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder. Thanks to Mascherano’s prowess as a defensive midfielder and leader, Argentina entered the final having not conceded a goal in 330 minutes during elimination games, as well as never having never trailed in the tournament. On 11 July, Mascherano was named on the ten-man shortlist for FIFA’s Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player. He recorded the most tackles of any player at the tournament (30) and the third-most passes (576 at a success rate of 89%), playing in every minute of Argentina’s campaign. In the Final, Argentina lost 1–0 to Germany after extra time, with Mario Götze scoring in the 113th minute. In May 2018, Mascherano was named in Jorge Sampaoli’s final 23-man squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. He earned his 143rd cap in a 4–0 friendly win against Haiti on 29 May 2018, equaling Javier Zanetti’s record for the most appearances for Argentina. His 144th cap came in Argentina’s opening match at the World Cup, a 1–1 draw against Iceland on 16 June 2018, thus becoming the sole most capped player in the country’s history. On 30 June 2018, following Argentina’s elimination from the World Cup after a 4–3 loss against France in the Round of 16, Mascherano announced his retirement from international football, having obtained 147 caps and scored 3 goals for his country.