Javier Mascherano has today become a Liverpool player in a permanent deal that at times looked like never happening.
The Argentinean international has been at Anfield on loan since January 2007, and that loan was set to end in the summer. A deal was negotiated to sign him before Christmas by Rafa Benítez, but fell victim to the Tom Hicks “concentrate on coaching” orders in November. It wasn’t until Hicks and Gillette finally got the last-minute go ahead for their £350m gift of debt to LFC that Mascherano could really feel comfortable about his future.
At that point Hicks said that he could be signed, for what might sound a massive deal but is believed to really be quite some bargain. The fee spoken about is £18.6m, which some reports say includes the initial £1.5m spent on the initial 18 month loan. The remaining £17m covers the “transfer fee” payable to the MSI group who owned him and also the players’ wages for the four years this deal covers. The reason the deal took so long to finalise was because of the need to ensure no Premier League rules were broken on third-party ownership.
To say he was pleased would be an understatement: “This is the best moment in my career,” he told the club’s official website. “I am very, very happy and now I can concentrate just on playing football. I said all along that I wanted to stay at Liverpool and now that I have signed I can say this is the best and the biggest moment in my career so far.”
He arrived at Anfield around a year ago, and although he couldn’t play straight away due to delays in getting clearance thanks to the mess West Ham had made in their “purchase” of him, soon he was swapping being left out in the cold at the Hammers with helping the Reds all the way to the Champions League final. He could tell the difference as soon as he got here: “From the first day I arrived at Liverpool the feeling was good and I knew this was where I wanted to play my football. It’s good news for me and my family that everything is sorted and I know where my future is going to be. I just want to do my best for the fans and the people of the club.”
Like anyone living under the cloud of uncertainty, the past few months have been difficult. He was always happy at Anfield, but had to be sure his future would be here. He wanted it to be, as did manager Rafa Benítez, but the continual backstage idiocy from the owners meant he just didn’t know where he stood.
He’s confident of being able to play a part in the future success of the club: “I am at a top side and I know I can win titles here. That’s the big thing for me. I want to be at a club where we can win trophies and have success.” More signings of the quality of Mascherano are needed before we can be sure of success, and evidence of a way of funding them is needed. As things stand, there’s a genuine fear that a slip-up in getting a top-four finish this season could see us actually being forced to sell players just to stay afloat. There’s no proof from the current owners that a scenario of that nature could be avoided.
Rafa Benítez was of course delighted to see the player sign. It’s clear that the bullying statements telling Rafa to shut up and forget about planning the future of his squad, made as the owners were offering Jurgen Klinsmann his job, were made because they had no plans at that stage to keep Rafa in his job. And that’s one of the reasons Mascherano’s future wasn’t confirmed to him – why carry out such a deal when the manager’s about to leave? The deal doesn’t prove Rafa’s future is safe however – the player could be sold in the summer at a massive profit if any new manager felt inclined to do so.
Rafa said: “We must be really pleased with the situation now. He has been a key player for us since he has been here and now we know he can be a key player in our future. From the start we knew Javier was a player with quality and a fantastic mentality.”
The boss explained that he’d had his eye on the player for some time: “We knew the player when he was in the reserves at River Plate but was playing for the senior national team and we had been monitoring his career since then. He is young but he has great experience having played for his country. We knew he would be a good signing for us.”
Rafa also feels that the player will improve his already impressive talents by playing for the Reds: “It’s clear that he is one of the best midfielders in the world but he can get better with us. We now have a lot of good options in the centre of midfield and that’s good news for the club.”
Rick Parry used the signing as an opportunity to make some stupid claims alongside the obvious ones: “Our overriding thought is that we are delighted to have signed a world class player on a long contract and I know Javier is thrilled too because he was keen to have his long term future resolved.” There are the obvious claims. What about the others?
He said: “I think this signing demonstrates two things. Firstly, that life at the club goes on despite all of the speculation to the contrary.” Life may well have gone on, but this deal was sanctioned when George Gillett was still a part of the club’s future, and still had his son working for the club. The fact it’s taken over a month to go through doesn’t mean the club’s functioned well during that month. No similar deals could be agreed to now, because the two owners are no longer in contact with each other.
Parry probably realises it, but as far as most fans are concerned he’s third on the list of targets to “get out of our club”. He is believed to have pocketed £500k for getting the current owners on board instead of DIC a year ago. He is believed to have negotiated a personal contract that sees it made pretty expensive for the club to get rid of him before the contract ends. He recently got a brand-new Ferrari delivered courtesy of the club. He’s clearly done well out of the shambles of the last year, and is unlikely to ever be forgiven for his part in it.
He knows that George Gillett has disappeared, he knows Gillett wants out, yet he says: “And secondly it demonstrates in very large measure the ongoing commitment of the owners who once again have come good when funds have been needed.”
Ongoing commitment? Taking your son out of his job at Melwood and heading for the hills never to be heard again, ignoring all attempts to be contacted, refusing to comment on anything whatsoever to do with the club and offering your shares for sale is ongoing commitment? On what planet exactly? Mascherano is likely to be the final signing of the Gillett-Hicks nightmare era.
The funds have come as part of that massive millstone around the Liverbird’s neck of £350m debt. That debt includes the interest that the owners didn’t pay on their first loan taken out to buy the club, and the various costs the bank wanted for arranging all of this precarious debt. What little is left is hardly likely to improve the squad to the level it should have been at last summer, let alone where it should be after the other clubs have done their business at the end of the season. This deal has payments to be spread over the four years it runs for.
Parry won’t be in the job much longer, and maybe hopes his words will give him a stay of execution. But that’s highly unlikely. DIC will look to recruit someone for the role who has experience in the football world at that level. Hicks is rumoured to be looking to promote commercial director Ian Ayre to the role.
If Parry’s contract is terminated early he’ll walk away with a six-figure sum, although whether he actually has to walk or gets to keep his Ferrari hasn’t been revealed.
But for Mascherano, for Rafa and for Liverpool fans, this is a rare good day amongst some never-ending black ones.