While it’s been rumored for a while now, news has come out today that Liverpool have written FIFA for special dispensation to sign Javier Mascherano from West Ham, needed because recently implemented FIFA rules prohibit a player from featuring for more than 2 clubs in one season. Which leads to the question, why would Liverpool want to sign a player who has seemingly failed at adapting to English football?
First, Mascherano’s failure to settle in at West Ham certainly doesn’t mean he’ll fail any at English club. His qualities were obvious at the World Cup, and there’s a reason teams across Europe were rumored to be after his and Tevez’s signatures.
West Ham is obviously a different case than a number of Premier League sides. Not only do they rely on British players more than most larger PL teams, but they’ve been involved in a battle to stay in the league from the moment Mascherano and Tevez signed. Trust me, he and Tevez didn’t sink West Ham’s season; they’ve been singled out as scapegoats by a voracious media whose primary goal is to single out scapegoats. Mascherano hasn’t played 10 minutes since October, has seen only 5 Premier League games in total, and people have already decided he can’t and won’t fit in the league?
West Ham had a manager in Alan Pardew who vocally preferred English players, but also didn’t seem to know how to handle players, especially foreign players, with the stature of Mascherano and Tevez. Despite my affection for Pardew, I’ll readily admit he literally looked lost dealing with his squad this season. That won’t be the case at Liverpool.
But most importantly, I sincerely believe he could improve Liverpool. He’ll provide what Benitez lovingly calls “possibilities.” With the addition of Mascherano to a midfield of Gerrard, Alonso, and Sissoko, Rafa will have even more midfield combinations for different games, and at least two players for any central midfield role he devises. Mascherano is a defensive midfielder (and with Alonso and Sissoko, we’ve seen that Rafa prefers to play with two holding midfielders in the center), but a defensive midfielder in a different mold than Sissoko.
When paired with Alonso, he’d allow Xabi further up the field to open up passes in the final third and allow him the opportunity for more long range shots. The same goes for Gerrard; because of Mascherano’s tackling ability, both Gerrard and Alonso would have to track back less, and at the same time, his range of passing is far superior to Sissoko’s. I’m certainly not suggesting he’ll walk into the side, or be better equipped to start ahead of Momo, let alone Xabi or Gerrard, but it’s easy to see the logic behind the move.
Not to mention Benitez’s obsession with Argentinean players. First Pellegrino, then Paletta, now Insua and maybe Mascherano. He’s building Buenos Aires East, I tell you.
I have no doubts that Mascherano has the ability to make it at Liverpool and/or in England. Ability is the key word. I’m not certain that he will make it (you never can be with foreigners, for the usual litany of reasons), or that he’ll even come to Anfield (like FIFA's actions are ever predictable), but the ability is certainly there. And the fact that this is rumored to be a loan deal insulates Liverpool should he not fit in.
My main and really only concern is with MSI and the odd bunch that own Mascherano’s rights. I’m always wary of Pini Zahavi and Kia Joorabchian, and I’m sure whatever strings are attached to Mascherano’s contract wouldn't be favorable. Similar gossip to that which came out when the lads signed for West Ham. But I trust Liverpool, and the men on Liverpool’s side making the deal, whether it’s Rafa and his staff on the football side of the equation, or Parry and the moneymen on the financial.
Needless to say, I want this to go through. I simply fail to see how getting a potentially great player, with few strings attached (on loan and possibly permanently for a small fee, as £5m was discussed when Juventus were in the mix) could be a bad thing. If he doesn’t pan out, Gerrard and Alonso are still first choice, Sissoko will be back to fitness in a little over a month, and Mascherano will be gone after 6 months. These men are professionals; I doubt competition for places will upset any team harmony. And if it does pan out, Liverpool’s getting the quality signing that the fans have been clamoring for at a far less cost. Low risk, but high reward. My favorite kind of deal. It’s worth the chance.