Mascher­ano keeps on prov­ing his worth

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORT -

BARCELONA, Spain (AP): JAVIER MASCHER­ANO’S weight in the Barcelona team is mea­sured by much more than his goals – or lack of.

The club’s fans are more than happy to over­look the fact that he has never scored in nearly 300 ap­pear­ances, be­cause few play­ers are as im­por­tant to the Span­ish cham­pi­ons.

Hav­ing al­ready proved his in­cred­i­ble flex­i­bil­ity over the years, the 32-year-old Mascher­ano is now learning an­other po­si­tion.

Mascher­ano is de­fy­ing his age and in­creas­ing his worth in a team whose in­tri­cate pass­ing style is in­cred­i­bly de­mand­ing on play­ers.

The Ar­gentina in­ter­na­tional has be­come coach Luis En­rique’s fix-it man.

Al­ready able to play ei­ther in mid­field or as a cen­tral de­fender, Mascher­ano has now passed the test as Barcelona’s right back.

He has filled in ex­pertly for the in­jured Sergi Roberto, both as the right-sided de­fender in a back line of three, or in the four-man de­fence Luis En­rique used to thwart Manch­ester City on Wed­nes­day in the Cham­pi­ons League.

En­rique said yes­ter­day that Mascher­ano may play on the flank for to­day’s visit to Va­len­cia in the Span­ish league.

“The op­tion of Mascher­ano is open,” said En­rique, who rarely re­veals his line ups be­fore the match. “He played a good match against City and he is one of the pos­si­bil­i­ties that I have for this and other matches.”

Against City, he nul­li­fied winger Manuel ‘Nolito’ Agudo and also set up Barcelona’s open­ing goal.

Steal­ing pos­ses­sion in City’s half, he sprang a quick at­tack that re­sulted in Lionel Messi’s first of three goals in a hum­bling 4-0 loss for for­mer Barcelona coach Pep Guardi­ola.

Mascher­ano’s value is his ver­sa­til­ity and will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice in a team full of in­cred­i­bly tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als – such as Messi, Ney­mar, Luis Suárez and An­drés Ini­esta.

It was Guardi­ola who gave Mascher­ano the first op­por­tu­nity to rein­vent him­self at Barcelona when he was strug­gling to find a start­ing role.

Hav­ing ar­rived from Liver­pool in 2010, he found Ser­gio Bus­quets well en­trenched in his own po­si­tion of hold­ing mid­fielder.

SIM­PLE CHOICE

It was a sim­ple choice: adapt or fail. So when a spate of in­juries left Barcelona with­out a cen­tral de­fender, he seized his chance.

Mascher­ano com­pen­sates for a height dis­ad­van­tage with in­tel­li­gent play, such as when he an­chored the side that beat Manch­ester United 3-1 in the 2011 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal.

“I never thought I would be here this long,” he said. “I know what I can do, but I also know the de­mands that Barca places on you. In any other team, I would have liked to play in mid­field, but chang­ing po­si­tions was worth it to keep play­ing here.”

Mascher­ano plays in mid­field for Ar­gentina and is a key player for the side that reached the fi­nal of the 2014 World Cup, los­ing to Ger­many.

His lat­est po­si­tional change for Barcelona goes against a cus­tom­ary trend.

The usual evo­lu­tion of ag­ing de­fend­ers is chang­ing from a wide po­si­tion to slot in­side, com­pen­sat­ing for dwin­dling speed.

Barca’s coach saw the po­ten­tial for Mascher­ano to do this when Roberto in­jured a leg mus­cle ear­lier this month. He over­looked Roberto’s nat­u­ral re­place­ment, Aleix Vi­dal, and asked Mascher­ano to take on the role.

Mascher­ano’s in­dus­try more than makes up for the fact that he has not scored in 290 ap­pear­ances – a Barcelona club record for an out­field player.

“I am not ob­sessed over it,” he said. “A goal wouldn’t change my life.”

Mascher­ano’s con­tri­bu­tions, which have helped win 17 ti­tles, are fully ap­pre­ci­ated and he signed a new con­tract on Mon­day un­til 2019.

“My time here at Barcelona has been mag­i­cal,” he said. “Year af­ter year the team has kept its hunger.”

FILE

Manch­ester City’s James Mil­ner (right) and Barcelona’s Javier Mascher­ano fight for the ball dur­ing a Cham­pi­ons League round of 16 sec­ond leg match at Camp Nou sta­dium in Barcelona last year.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Jamaica

© PressReader. All rights reserved.