Back on track

Javier Mascherano, who hails from Buenos Aires, came through the ranks at hometown giant River Plate although, unusually, he broke into the Argentina side before he made a first-team appearance for his club, writes Andy Hampson.

Tough-tackling and influential World Cup player Javier Mascherano has got his career back on track with the Barclays English Premier League side Liverpool after unhappy stints at West Ham — where he was involved in one of the most controversial transfer deals ever — and Brazilian club, the Corinthians.

Mascherano, who hails from Buenos Aires, came through the ranks at hometown giant River Plate although, unusually, he broke into the Argentina side before he made a first-team appearance for his club.

That was due largely to his excellence at the FIFA Under-17 World Championship. His River Plate debut came against Nueva Chicago in August 2003, two weeks after he had played for the senior national side against Uruguay.

He helped the Argentina Under-23 team win a tournament the following year and then went on to play in the Copa America. He made such an impression as Argentina reached the final that he was named Player of the Tournament. He followed that up by helping his country win the Olympic gold in Athens.

Richer clubs began to circulate but he stayed with River another year before eventually moving on. Surprisingly, it was to the Brazilian outfit Corinthians that he went next, not one of the bigger European clubs as had been anticipated.

His spell at Corinthians was not a particularly successful one, ruined as it was by injury. A stress fracture of the foot kept him out for six months until March 2006.

He got back to full fitness for the World Cup in Germany, where he was part of a highly impressive but under-achieving Argentina side.

After the tournament he moved to Europe but the choice of club, English Premier League’s West Ham, was a major surprise. Mascherano moved as part of a double deal with compatriot Carlos Tevez. It seemed a major coup for the Hammers as some of the continent’s biggest clubs had been linked.

The true nature of the deal took a long while to unravel, but it eventually transpired that West Ham had agreed to terms many others would have baulked at. The players remained the property of their representatives, not the club. It led to a huge debate over third-party ownership and West Ham became involved in a complex legal saga towards the end of the season.

By this time, however, Mascherano had moved on after failing to make an impression at Upton Park. He was loaned to Liverpool by his representatives in January and the transfer proved highly beneficial. After struggling to break into the West Ham team, Mascherano suddenly started to shine and played a key role in helping the Reds to the UEFA Champions League final.

He has retained a prominent place in the Liverpool squad for 2007-08, which is the last of his loan arrangement.

Mascherano made only seven appearances, two as substitute, during a miserable four-month spell at West Ham. His agony was even prolonged after his move to Liverpool was seemingly confirmed. The Anfield club completed the signing within the transfer window but Mascherano could not be registered as a player while two investigations were carried out.

World governing body FIFA first needed to give its approval as its rules forbid players from representing three clubs in a calendar year. After that was granted the Premier League needed to make sure the deal conformed to its rules on third-party ownership. After a month at the club, Mascherano was finally cleared to make his Liverpool debut.

Mascherano is married to Fernanda and together they have a daughter, Lola, who was born last year, shortly before the player’s move to West Ham. They moved with him to London and when times got hard at Upton Park he at least had them for comfort. “At one point I felt like packing it in, but I carried on mainly because of my wife and my daughter and when Liverpool came in it was an incredible fresh start,” he said.

His wife recently escaped unhurt after an accident on the motorway in one of the couple’s cars in Santa Fe, Argentina. Fernanda was travelling with Lola and a pregnant friend when she lost control of the Audi and hit a cereal truck. There were no serious injuries but the car was badly destroyed.

Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.

FACTFILE Name: Javier Mascherano Position: Midfielder Club: Liverpool DOB: 08/06/1984 Argentina caps: 30 Argentina goals: 2 Argentina debut: v Uruguay, July 2003 Moment to remember

Mascherano featured in the best team performance of the 2006 World Cup when Argentina thrashed Serbia and Montenegro 6-0. The South American team humbled its opponent with a scintillating display in Gelsenkirchen but its campaign ended at the quarterfinal stage as it went out to Germany on penalties.

Moment to forget

Mascherano’s start at Liverpool could hardly have gone better as the team reached the Champions League final for a second time in three years. However, there was to be no victory for the team this time as it was beaten 2-1 by AC Milan in Athens.