Mascherano spoke today in El País about his time at Liverpool, how Rafa improved his game and the love he still holds for the place. He speaks about the childlike lust that characterises the English game and gets all Corcadorcha about Xavi & Iniesta: Ní fheicimíd ár leithéid arís ann. Indeed, if pegamequemegusta were grand enough to make tabloid status, there’s also a potential Arsenal-niggling headline regarding Fabregas being a ‘Barca man’. He speaks fondly of Bielsa and Guardiola, comparing the two, without a word for Batista, who’s not mentioned once.
All interesting enough from a guy, a thoughtful, measured, rational enough guy we rarely hear from. Still, by far the most intriguing aspects of the interview are those considering the Barca way. Masche’s not the first Barca man we’ve heard make these statements but the idea that he’s echoing others’ views is arguably even more ‘worrying’ (worrying like a lack of milk or sugar, not worrying in the sense of unexplainable lumps on your person or being confronted by a sabre-toothed Joe Jordan riding a mammoth with a marketing degree). Barcelona seem to have convinced themselves they are in fact Jesus and are calling out, in the most un-Nietzschean way imaginable, for some Judas to betray them so they can be nailed to a crossbar, martyred and so redeem football for its sins. Despite their considerable haul of late, they appear to be fixated with NOT winning trophies, as if Inter Milan were some kind of dirty collection of tax collectors (though they probably are). Indeed, in retrospect perhaps their coach trip to Milan last year was engineered to emulate Joshua Ga-Nozri entering Jerusalem on a donkey.
“People remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. That’s worth something,” says Mascherano. Perhaps, but these days people remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything because every five minutes someone from Barcelona says people remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. You’re top of the league and playing a notoriously spineless Arsenal team at home with an away goal. If you don’t go through, you don’t get martyr status. Besides there are plenty of crap martyrs, and pegamequemegusta didn’t think martyrdom was very fashionable these days anyway. It’s all very General Boulanger. In any case, if you are going to be martyred, you may as well show some balls, go out screaming insults at the whorish wife of the Tetrarch rather than meekly faffing about in a garden muttering about a bad smell.
Likewise in this vein of passive subjugation to the beast, the main thing we’ve all been wondering about down in the caves these last few months has been why Mascherano, captain of Argentina and 27 in a few months, has acquiesced so. He appears to have moved to Barcelona knowing full well he wouldn’t be in the team and has accepted with relish his role on the bench as if it was some Henrik Larsson-style cameo to round out a stellar career. Why on earth Mascherano is so content to ‘learn from’ someone else?
And then you have Busquets, who’s the perfect player for this club. Sergio, though he has so much talent he could play for any team, was born to play here. He’s got everything a Barca midfielder should have: he knows how to nick a ball, he’s got good technique and a perfectly ordered tactical game. I watch him and try to learn, to take things from him.
Pegamequemegusta is inclined to suggest he grow a pair quicksmart. Having said that, we do have some sympathy for his apparent desire to change his game, to actually become a Barca-style player, not just be a Van Bommell-style blow-in who hauls the buckets of plaster around for the fresco-painting geniuses; to make another step-up as he did at Liverpool. Maybe he’s deluded, maybe he’ll be proved right as it does look like he’ll be playing tomorrow. We’ll see. In the meantime, with the best will in the world, it’s hard not to be irked by his honesty in this interview as at times it borders on mawkishness.Anyway, as regards the interview itself (Spanish speakers can get the original here), it’s somewhat stuttery. There are incoherent jumps in the middle of an answer that give the impression they’re not really straight question-answer pairs. They read like the answers have been cobbled together from his remarks in general over the course of the day. Indeed, hardly any of the questions are actually posed as such. They’re more comments, statements.
Another odd thing, something we’ve noticed before with interviews by Argentine players in Spain, is that you get the impression he wouldn’t have used certain of the phrases that he is reported to have uttered. They’re too Spanish. It reads like it’s been translated into Spanish Spanish for the readers of EL País rather than his words having been directly transcribed. El País musn’t like these regional dialects polluting their pure castilian.
There are obviously abrupt jumps in theme, too, even though the piece is laid out as one long conversation. And at the end it becomes very messy indeed as they appear to have decided to just throw in a few jumbled remarks to close out the piece, some of which hardly make sense. The combination of these thematic non sequiturs, the suspicion that the answers are somewhat fake and the odd-sounding Spanish makes translating his tone and exact words a bit of a bitch. Still, pegamequemegusta would never ask you dear handsome fools to take it easy on us.
- You were born near Rosario but you started off with River.
- Yeah that’s how it started. Even though i’m a Central fan, the idea of playing for one of the Rosario teams never really came up. When I was twelve I got into Renato Cesarini’s training school, from where many kids move on to clubs in Buenos Aires. I’ll probably finish my career in Argentina, and hopefully it’ll be with River.
- Why did you go to Brazil?
- River had to offload players and Corinthians made a huge offer. It was weird ’cause either Lucho, Maxi López and me all had to go together or the deal was off. For me the move worked out well in a professional sense. I played for a year and we won the league, but then things got messy. The company in charge of the club wanted out and wanted to get its money back, too, so they sold me to West Ham. It was an awful move as I didn’t have any time to adapt or find out anything whatsoever. It was all a bit weird.
- What’s it like being a midfielder in England?
- It’s the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. It’s football in its purest state. There’s no pretense about it, it’s pure innocence, you go out to win. It’s the kind of football you play as a kid. It suited me perfectly as I started out playing in the street. That’s one of the reasons I have such fond memories of England. It was very enjoyable.
- Completely different to Brazilian football, obviously.
- No! Brazilian football is really open: for the defenders and the midfielders it’s difficult as you’re always playing one-on-ones. You’re duelling constantly, and if you lose out you’ll probably lose the game. I always seemed to find myself up against really quick guys in wide-open spaces…
- What did you learn at Liverpool?
- Under Rafa Benítez my tactical game improved greatly. He gave me the chance to show I could play in England. Tactically he’s very astute. He knows the other team very well, knows their weaknesses. He’s a very hard worker. He likes the team to be very well organised.
- He doesn’t restrict the players too much, then, put them in a strait-jacket?
- No, he always gave us freedom to play, just at the back we had to be organised. My job at Liverpool was to bring balance. When I arrived, Sissoko, Gerrard and Alonso were all there and the first thing I thought was if I wasn’t getting a game at West Ham, how was I going to get one with Liverpool? But Rafa gave me confidence. Gerrard moved forward to play behind Torres and I played next to Xabi. He was the more creative player and I was the counterweight, giving cover, sweeping up. My time at Liverpool was like being born again. In many ways I felt more comfortable there than I had with River. I still feel it’s my home, even though things went sour at the end. Liverpool wanted to sell me and business is part of football. I know that well these days.
- Your career trajectory may have been hard to foresee but it hasn’t been half bad.
- I’ve kept moving forward. I didn’t imagine my career being this way either but i’m happy enough. Whatever I’ve achieved has been through hard work and sacrifice. For me, football is the most important thing, not all the stuff that comes with it.
- You’ve played against Arsenal lots of times.
- Yeah, loads! In the league; we knocked them out of the Champion’s League, too; we played them in the FA Cup… I’ve almost always drawn against them and they always made me cover a lot of ground. They would have lots of possession and we’d be set up to score on the counter. That team was more or less the same as the team they have now. Flamini or Denilson for Wilshere; Kolo Toure and Gallas were there, too. Now there are some more kids but it’s more or less the same. They play a similar style to Barca but they’re stronger physically. Then again, you rarely see them win by punting long balls forward. I’ve played against Cesc a thousand times. He has that distinctive way of playing, that touch, those little details so characteristic of the football played here that remind you he’s a Barca man.
- As a kid you watched plenty of European football. Did you see anything that compares to this team?
- No, i’ve never seen a team like this Barca one. I saw Van Gaal’s Ajax and other great teams like Lippi’s Juve, but nothing like this. There’s not just one way to play football, they’re all valid. I’m fortunate enough to be a footballer, I got a chance to get in there and do my best. You do what you can. Luckily i’m here and I see now there’s another way of thinking about the game, of feeling and playing it. I’m glad to have been able to get to know it. The easiest thing would have been to have stayed at Liverpool. I had a fixed place in the team and no-one was going to take it from me. It would have been very easy to stay but I wanted to be part of a team that was fighting to win things. Whether we win anything or not, I came as I wanted to find out if I could play in a team like this one, if I could be part of a team that will be remembered for its style of play, not for what it wins. And that’s more important than any trophy. People remember Cruyff’s Holland team even though they didn’t win anything. That’s worth something. There are some people who only value winning things, but how you do things is important, too. I don’t look down on other styles of play but obviously this way is unique.
- What has Guardiola asked of you? What have you had to change?
- He told me to do the same job I’ve always done in defence and that as regards going forward to be very much involved, always free to take the ball, to keep it simple, to keep the move going… With Barca, positional play is very important. I run less these days but i’m always up with the play. I’m trying to learn and get better every day as my goal is to look back and be able to take pride of what I did on the pitch. Guardiola is quite similar to Bielsa in terms of the passion they both show for football. Both of them are more concerned with the other team’s goal than their own, on how to inflict damage when you attack. Marcelo is more direct, though, whereas Barca can be more patient.
- Looking at the stats, you’re not playing as little as one might think.
- In Argentina some people have been saying that i’m playing very little but i’m happy, especially when you consider the midfielders that Barca have – it’s the midfield that won the World Cup, the best there’s ever been. So I have to show a little respect and be conscious of the fact that if i’m not in the team it’s because players like Busquets or Keita are there… Or Xavi and Iniesta, the best creative players in the world, unique, once-off players. Unfortunately for football we won’t see their likes again. And then you have Busquets, who’s the perfect player for this club. Sergio, though he could play for any team, was born to play here. He’s got everything a Barca midfielder should have: he can nick the ball, he’s got good technique and a really tight tactical game. I watch him and try to learn, to take things from him. We’re quite different, really. I’ve always been a team player. To win things you need a squad. Only eleven can take the field, five are on the bench and six watch from the stand. But for the first eleven to be at their best you need healthy competition every day. That’s why i’m here.
- Did you lose money in all this?
- We’ll leave that for another day.
- Was it Messi who convinced you to join Barca?
- Nooo, more like me asking him to recommend me to the people at Barca! Seriously, I think they asked Leo and Gabi [Milito] what kind of person I was, what I was like in the dressing room, etc. I’m grateful to them as it appears they spoke well of me, as I ended up here.
- Why has it been so hard for Messi to be accepted in Argentina?
- Probably because he never played there. All the players are identified with a certain club except for him. But that’s all in the past now. We’re lucky that the best player in the world is Argentine and people just want to enjoy that now.
- As regards being the best player in the world, does Messi have to win a World Cup?
- For the time being we have the challenge of the Copa América, which will be played in Argentina this year. Argentine football needs a trophy as we haven’t won anything for a long time. People are really looking forward to it. It’s time Argentina won something again.
- What does it mean to you to be captain of Argentina?
- First of all it’s a source of great pride, but it’s also a great responsibility. I was lucky enough to have Ayala here when I started playing. He showed me the ropes and eased my way into the set-up. I try, in my own manner, my own way, if not to imitate him but to leave something. The Selección is about leaving something for the next generation; they must know you tried to do your best.
Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How ’bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.
– James Tate