Javier Mascherano started the season as an unwanted player
at a club in turmoil. Signed by West Ham just before it fell into new
ownership, the then coach barely used him. That may well have been due to a
discovery that trouble was looming because of the way Mascherano and his
compatriot Carlos Tevez had been "bought" by West Ham. Both players were signed
contrary to Premier League rules on third-party interference, a breach of rules
that cost West Ham £5.5m and according to some, should have cost them points.
Rafa Benítez had seen in the world cup just how good a
player Javier was, and couldn't believe he was being left to rot at West Ham.
With Liverpool's own change of owner still not agreed – in fact it was still looking
like being DIC as new owners – Rafa had no money to spend. So a bid to sign
Mascherano on loan was made, with FIFA agreeing to the transfer just before the
deadline. The Premier League couldn't agree to it straight away however, but
after what seemed an age the player finally became a Red.
Javier is well aware of the contrast between where he could
have been and where he is – on the verge of playing in the biggest final in
club football: "When I think about this match, I can't quite believe what is
happening to me. It really is incredible,"
Javier, known as "The Chief", realises just how much work and
determination Rafa put into securing his signature, working through the red
tape to make him a Reds player: "I feel really grateful to all my team-mates
and everyone at Liverpool for making me so welcome here, but especially to Rafa
Benítez. As you can imagine, the fact he wanted me so much in his team gave me
a great boost. I now feel very strongly that I can't let this person down, as
he has placed so much trust in me. I get the feeling that my team-mates all
think the same way. From my first day at Liverpool I noticed that there is a
mood of total determination here, a never-say-die spirit. The manager transmits
a strong mentality to the team and gives a lot of confidence to each player."
His performances since he was allowed to start playing in
the Liverpool shirt have been good enough to see him give Xabi Alonso and Momo
Sissoko a real fight for a place, especially in games where captain Steven
Gerrard plays centrally. Perhaps he was too good for West Ham, perhaps both bosses
he had at West Ham weren't good enough to get the best from him, but he's not
bitter at how he was treated: "I've got no regrets. When I went there I
genuinely thought it was the best thing for me. Obviously I didn't know what
was going to happen. I was always treated very well but things didn't turn out
how I expected on the pitch."
There's no escaping the fact that the manager did not sign
him for West Ham – the manager was pretty much forced into accepting both
Argentineans. And both players were almost certainly forced into accepting West
Ham. Javier, looking back now, thinks the circumstances of the transfer were bound
to cause problems: "Many things went wrong. Maybe, first of all, it was down to
the way I arrived at the club, and the state they were in at the time. There
was a great deal of hype surrounding our arrival. But I needed time to adapt
and I think they didn't let me have that. As for my relationship with the
managers there, I wouldn't say any one thing went wrong. Looking back, though,
maybe I should not have been in such a rush to go there when I was offered the
chance of a move."
The two players remain friends and keep in touch with each
other. Javier says Tevez was determined to help West Ham to survive the drop: "I
speak to Carlitos nearly every week. I am very glad for him because in the end
he finally managed to achieve what he had promised to himself and everyone at
West Ham. He said he was not going to give up until he helped West Ham to avoid
relegation. Personally, I think that if West Ham had been relegated, he would
have been ready to stay with them to help the team get back to the Premiership.
He might be a star, but he also has a lot of humility."
Tevez now wants to leave West Ham though, he wants to do
what his friend has done and move to a bigger club. Mascherano was asked
whether reports linking Tevez with a move to Anfield were true: "He hasn't said
anything to me personally about it, but I would love it," said Javier. "It
would be great for me and for the club. I can't imagine any team in the world
not wanting Tevez. He is a great player and Liverpool are a great club, so of
course he would be very welcome here. But from what I'm hearing, I think that
Liverpool will find it hard to compete with the other offers that West Ham are
apparently receiving for him. I think it will be too much money. And I don't
know what he wants. Maybe he is keen to play in another country."
It's not even clear if it is West Ham who are receiving
those offers, or if it's MSI, the people that owned Tevez at the start of the
season. Figures being quoted for the player are high, but maybe it's time Tevez
got the move he wants rather than the move he's forced into. And Anfield is somewhere
he'd probably like to play if he believes what Mascherano says of the club. He's
got on with the players he's now got as team-mates, was it because of the numbers
of Spanish speakers at the club? "It has helped, but it wasn't guaranteed to be
that way. Sometimes, even when you know a person, you do not get on with them,
but I feel like I was made for Liverpool and they were made for me. I come from
a team that was used to challenging for titles. That was the way it was at
River Plate, and it was the same at Corinthians. Well, that didn't happen at
West Ham. Thinking about Carlitos, while I know he is happy because he helped
his team escape relegation, I am also sure he must have felt a bit confused
that he was celebrating something like that. Tevez and me are used to
celebrating winning titles, not fighting to avoid the drop."
Mascherano was asked his views on recent jibes by Jose Mourinho
that Liverpool were just ‘a cup team': "I heard that. That's his opinion. I
guess Mourinho must have his reasons. I respect him but I don't agree. In
Argentina they say the same thing about Boca Juniors. Many people call them ‘a
cup team' and, like Liverpool, they have won many finals, but I don't think it's
fair to say that about either team. Liverpool have shown on many occasions that
they are capable of competing for every trophy. And next season we will
challenge for the league." Ironically Chelsea ended their season today with
their second cup of the season, making them this season's domestic "cup team".
That challenge for the league is something for next season,
for now the Reds have to concentrate on the Champions League final. Can they
beat Milan? "I'm not sure how difficult it will be to beat them, " he says, "but
Liverpool have showed again and again that we are a difficult side to beat. Everybody
runs and works for each other and when everybody is focused on the task ahead
it is extremely difficult to break us down. All I hope is that on the 23rd we
perform the way we did in the semi-final or against Barcelona and are able to
bring the trophy back here."