Farewell, Masche, aka “Change is gonna come”

Guardian journalist Sid Lowe wrote a 2016 column about Javier Mascherano, THE Bendtner tackle and the moment that he became a Barça player, rather than a man who plays for Barcelona.

The distinction is important, because it explains a lot about why Mascherano was something special, and why his departure is hitting everyone at the club, everyone who supports the club, everyone who loves Barça football, hard.

As Messi said, “It will be weird coming into the locker room and not seeing you.” Mascherano has been a fixture. And not just a fixture. He has been, even when he hasn’t been playing, the beating heart and soul of the team. When he played, the coach always chose him to relay instructions and tell things that needed fixing. Then El Jefecito relayed the message. Mascherano is the last of a magnificent breed of old-school players, one that gives everything for the club, one that becomes the club.

When Neymar came to Barcelona, many including me instantly tapped him as a short-timer, figuring on three years. Mascherano was different, felt different. His struggles made him more human, his efforts to fit into a sparkling team of dazzling technical skill raw and evident. He was the best DM in the Premiership, and came to Barça as the guy behind Busquets and Toure Yaya, who had to find a way to get into the XI somehow, to play like he believed that he could.

His great luck was that playing CB for Barça is a lot like playing DM, so he was able to assimilate, able to win the trust of a now-iconic coach, to become Barça. The Bendtner tackle, still one of the all-time great plays in club history, amid all the goals, sparkling passes and mesmeric dribbles. It was that tackle that sunk his roots as surely as he demolished the attacker. Nobody ever thought Mascherano would leave. There weren’t really rumors about him until late in his career, because he was a Barça player rather than someone who signed for Barcelona.

Neymar had his moment. That massive comeback against Paris St.-Germain that was led by him and finished by him, was his moment. He chose to forever be a player who played for Barcelona by leaving, by choosing to be the man rather than become part of a tradition, part of the club and supporters that were ready to welcome him. And he left. Thiago Alcantara was La Masia, but he wasn’t Barça. Not in that way. Because you don’t leave. Messi, Iniesta, Pique, Xavi, Mascherano, are Barça. You don’t leave your heart for anything except love.

Mascherano left because he knew it was time. He knew that he couldn’t give any more to the team that he had already given so much for. He left out of love, with tears in his eyes and the admission that his dream was over. He left because he can see, can see Umtiti, can see Pique ready to become a captain, can see Yerry Mina leaping at the bit, a ball of talent and size — and he can see that his time is up.

His departure also marks the passage of a different kind of marker at Barça, as yet another player who understands what it means to be the club, not just play for it, leaves. Puyol, Xavi, now Mascherano. Iconic names. Iniesta will be the next, and he, too, will leave out of love rather than because he had to. The kicks they take, the tackles they make, the abuse they suffer they do it because that is what you are supposed to do. There is a deep level of sacrifice present in players of a certain level and time, that we will never see again. Maldini was a one-club player. Iniesta will be a one-club player. Mascherano feels like he was a one-club player, such was his assimilation into Barça life and lore.

The club is getting 10 million for him from the Chinese club that will rent his services for a season. Harder hearts are talking about his salary, and the room it will create fiscally. Neither of those are anywhere near big enough to close the hole, bridge the gap created by his leaving. Mascherano is a club legend, and I will fight anybody who suggests otherwise. Yes, his play was brilliant, time after time, match after match, even when people insisted it wasn’t. But the play isn’t the thing. The heart is the thing. Mascherano gave his heart to Barça. When Puyol left, he became the lion heart, giving everything for the club. Not just playing, but giving.

His leaving hurts not because it isn’t time. It is. He knows that it is, we know that it is. But his leaving hurts because it’s one more inch of the rope that is the beautiful anachronism that is Barça, the rope that we all cling with the fervor of the devoted. Boards and businessmen grease that rope and tug at it, tell us that the game is modern now. No money, no magic. But club legends argue otherwise, argue that black leather boots might be dead on the pitch, but the footballing equivalent still exists. Iniesta, Messi, Pique, Busquets, Mascherano. Romance still matters, in the beauty of the beating hearts of players who don’t just play for the club, but embody the club. They are Barça

So farewell, legend, and thank you for everything — all that you did but more importantly, all that you gave, which was everything.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

35 Comments

  1. January 24, 2018

    Thanks for everything Masche. Him and Messi looked quite emotional to me, in that farewell.
    I dont know which Barca fan will say that Masche is not a legend.
    Am also happy club is giving him now all the honours he deserves.

  2. georgjorge
    January 24, 2018

    One-club players at Barcelona for the next five or seven years? Busquets is well on his way to becoming one, maybe Sergi Roberto as well (now there’s someone with heart as well as a lot of talent if I think about his run against RM in the 92nd minute). But it’s definitely not a concept taking hold very much in future football.

    I recently read an interview with Mascherano where he was asked about being “el jefecito”, and he even seemed embarassed, saying he wasn’t a tough or commanding guy at all outside of football, and feeling ashamed for an incident where he got into an opposing players face. That’s real class, because most people would jump at an opportunity to be called a boss. Good luck to him in China, and who knows, maybe we’ll see him on a sideline (Barcelona or otherwise) someday again – I would love to seem him alongside someone like Simeone for the Argentine national team.

  3. Jim
    January 24, 2018

    Some folks will know is a difficult one for me which is why I sat out the last article on his departure and why I wouldn’t be leading with that tackle but what I can say is that the guy is a born leader, has carried himself perfectly throughout his time here and I listened any time he opened his mouth as he was sheer class in his self deprecating and at times blunt manner. Rightly made a captain and I’d like to remember him from about half a dozen key games he played in the run up to the last treble. Didn’t put a foot wrong or leave Pique’s side. Deserved a great send off and will make a great manager.

  4. G6O
    January 24, 2018

    In other news, Madrid are out of the CdR after winning the away game then losing at home to Leganes…

    • georgjorge
      January 24, 2018

      People talk about Zidane not being tactically aware or Ronaldo being “past it”, but when I look at their home and away records the only logical conclusion is that they just don’t like their own fans very much ; )

      • January 25, 2018

        Zidane is a fantastic man manager. That worked for the past couple of seasons. Now that key players have lost a step, opponents have lost their fear and the goals aren’t going in at key times as they used to, Real Madrid need a coach to adapt tactics, make adjustments and take the team to that next level, after a rebuild.

        Zidane isn’t that person.

        Analogies are being drawn between Zidane and Luis Enrique in spaces such as social media, by people who should know better. Last season for Luis Enrique came down to a pair of off Liga matches and a crap first leg against Juventus. The team was erratic, but if it performs anything approaching form, results are different and it wins Liga, and probably advances against (as I said at the time) the only team perfectly set up to defeat Barça badk then. But neither happened. Now lore has picked up and run away with the idea that Barça had a bad year last season.

        Valverde came in for Luis Enrique because the team needed a different personality and a better tactician. The number of matches that Barça has turned in the second half this season isn’t magic. It’s work and making the right changes and subs. That is what a coach does.

        But that coach also needs the raw material. P:aulinho would have kicked ass for Luis Enrique, as well. Andre Gomes was too slow to adapt, and Rafinha was injured so that midfield link was lost, which created all kinds of difficulties. And that was that.

        Zidane has different issues. Marcelo has lost a bit, so has Ronaldo. And instead of committing to Bale, which is what he should be doing at this point, he is sticking to the superstar tradition. Asensio shouldn’t be a sub for this team, but he is. There should never be a question of Isco not being in the XI. A coach sees that. A man manager thinks of players, perception and their egos.

        So, RM is where they are now, done in Liga, out of the Copa and even as I expect them to advance past PSG, they don’t have the horses to win Champions League. Too psychologically damaged. They just don’t believe that the ball is going to go in.

        The other difficulty is they need an extensive (and expensive) rebuild. If you look at the Barça transfer activity, with the exception of Paulinho, who was a necessary profile, every transfer has been young. Coutinho, at 25, is the oldest of the bunch. And when Alena and Arnaiz promote, the team gets even younger. When was the last time the team was able to field a U25 XI?

        Ter Stegen
        Semedo, Mina, Umtiti
        Gomes
        Sergi Roberto Alena, Coutinho
        Dembele Alcacer, Denis Suarez

        And that XI is also quality.

        Real Madrid have a huge job on their hands. We’ll see how they perform in making it happen.

        • Davour
          January 26, 2018

          Agreed – but I still think a similarity is that both stayed one season too many, and while our season last year wasn’t nearly as awful, LE did not look like a coach who would shake things up. And while I know it’s a legend, Messi did carry us in a different way from this season, where he is the edge, rather.

          LE brought fire and tactical shifts (fixing set pieces for one), but visibly ran out of both last season; Zidane had authority to motivate, make the right rotations and create a team.

      • January 25, 2018

        Zidane looked like a great man manager. His tactics was Modric + Isco + Marcelo plus crosses to Ronaldo and Bale
        The players seem to have lost that motivation and now that every body start playing them like European champions, when they need more than just crosses and he cant invent something. But yesterday he clearly under estimated his opponents.

        Am not happy though. They might really fight it out for the CL. I will hate it if they complete a hatrick of CL’s in this decade.

  5. January 25, 2018

    The club just pulled off what could be quite the coup, in signing a youth player, Jean-Yves Ballou, from the Montreal Impact for Barça B. He’s 18, and a badass. Likes to play the wing, particularly left wing, which is a need.

    https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2017/04/27/who-montreal-impact-homegrown-ballou-jean-yves-tabla

    If he develops as he has tha talent to, and the B folks don’t mess him up like they did Adama Traore, watch out. I like that Valverde will be around to help shape him.

    • Messiah10
      January 25, 2018

      I’m excited about this signing. Ballou has technical skill which will/should get better training & playing with Barça b. I also like his vision of the game. He can create a lot of chances. We’ll see. Early days.

    • Jado
      January 26, 2018

      Hi all, long time reader but this is my first time commenting! Thanks Kxevin for your great articles, they’re always a pleasure to read!
      I’m commenting because I’m from Montreal, have been following the Impact for a few years, and wanted to comment about Ballou’s transfer. This kid is talented, no doubt about that. But he’s also a little princess and I don’t believe he will be a success at Barcelona. He was promoted to the first team last season, and within 10 games he was already skipping practices and requesting a transfer to a European team. Now I understand a player wanting to leave and play in Europe. Another player from the impact who really wanted to play in Europe, Ambroise Oyongo, was signed by Montpellier in Ligue 1 a few weeks ago. But he played 1 season with NY Red Bulls and 3 with the Montreal Impact, cementing himself as one of the best left backs in the MLS. Not to mention that he also won the Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon. I also understand pressuring your employers to allow you to leave. Dembele did it. But Dembele also won best young player in the Bundesliga the season before. Ballou wasn’t able to hold his first XI spot on one of the worst teams in the MLS. I really don’t see a player with this kind of attitude, even with his level of raw talent, being a success at Barcelona. Let’s hope I’m wrong tho! I would love to see a player from my city playing for Barca’s first team!

      • Davour
        January 26, 2018

        Welcome, Jado, and thanks for your input. It sounds a little worrying, but one can hope that a club like Barca will provide a reality check and moderate his ego a little. Seeing Messi & co (even from a distance) should be a humbling experience. Or else he is free to move on to PSG, for example…

      • January 26, 2018

        Thank you for that, Jadd. That is discouraging to hear. Will keep an eye on him. If he evinces any of that prima donna stuff, reckon he will be spit out the back faster than last week’s lunch. And deservedly so.

  6. Jim
    January 25, 2018

    Hmm, Semedo left out entirely ? Wish I knew what was going on there. And Vidal in the side ? Again, I’ve no real objection to that. I didn’t think he was quite as bad as some suggested although he was very poor so a second chance doesn’t bother me but the real point is that I had EV down as the sort of person who doesn’t give second chances . No way Semedo needs rest, he’s been omitted deliberately. Is it to allow SR to forage unhindered ? Or is there something in the background ? Certainly not based on last performance.

    Don’t know the answer to any of these things but this could be a humdinger of a match. I worry for Ini in the first half although if they hammer him their own fans might have something to say. . . .

  7. Jim
    January 25, 2018

    This is nasty and gonna get worse. They can’t finish with eleven. Mind you I’m not convinced both Suarez and Messi will still be on at the end either. You can see this ref just itching to make a name for himself.

    • Jim
      January 25, 2018

      So if you were in the Espanyol dressing room would you be reckoning your best shot is to rile either Messi or Suarez into another card ?

  8. TITO
    January 25, 2018

    This is what you get when a ref thinks that he is the center of the happening. Over confident, arrogant, smart ass…. As Jim says, probably we will see some red cards in tge second half. Though i think that that second yellow for us was for Busi…but i might be wrong.

  9. Messiah10
    January 25, 2018

    That ref(can’t remember his name) has always kept his cards in his pocket when it’s our games. I’ve had issues with him for a few years. Phil or Ray did say he hasn’t given a red this year. I get wanting to keep all 22 players on the pitch, but a yellow card offense is a bookable offense regardless if the player already has one. Always fear for our safety & ability to control games when he’s in charge.

    • Rami
      January 26, 2018

      His name is “Mateu lahoz” and yeah, he’s notorious for allowing and turning a blind eye of overly aggressive physical collisions with other players, The funny thing, he always seem to be appointed when we play against atletico or espanyol, Which “Coincidentally” happen to be the two teams who rely a lot on physical play to thwart their opponents.

  10. squeen
    January 26, 2018

    Coutinho looked might fine. Gave me goosebumps.

  11. Rami
    January 26, 2018

    I’m extremely glad mascherano had the farewell he deserved, For me he’s been the spiritual successor to puyol, We were very lucky to have him all of these past 7 years, Gracias masche!, The thought that in the next few years we’ll be doing the same farewells to iniesta and messi, Is too much to bear, I don’t think i can take it,

    And have you all noticed, there is a very strange atmosphere in FCB right now, An atmosphere of silence, It’s spooky!
    No criticisms , No whining, No doomsday scenarios, Nothing, Can’t remember the last time things had been this calm,

    La liga is ours to lose, CDR is ours to lose, A domestic double in EV first season, Is absolutely phenomenal, And i think it would’ve happened regardless of weather RM decided to completely disintegrate this season or not.

    I don’t have good vibes for CL at all this season, If dembele hadn’t suffered this crippling injuries, We might have a good chance, I won’t be shocked if we got knocked out by chelsea, Yes, We’re the better team, But so was the case the last time we met them, Oh god that penalty miss, That torres goal, The horror, The Horror.

    And lastly, Kevin, Next time, Try to pay more attention to what’s being tweeted at you, Before you start blocking people, Specially when someone is joking with you, Take a chill pill.

    • January 26, 2018

      Rami, this isn’t exactly the forum for it, but I am always chilled. But I am serious about respect and quality of discourse on social media. The printed page doesn’t allow for the nuance that we all think/hope that it should. That is one of the many problems with the format, as it is here, though the comment format is a somewhat “safer” discourse method than a limited number of characters.

      If you want to chat further about it, my email is kevvwill@yahoo.com

  12. mazimi
    January 26, 2018

    Wonderful article, thank you so much Kxevin for taking time and writing these for us!

  13. mazimi
    January 26, 2018

    Also, does anyone know what’s Kxevin’s twitter name? I couldn’t find it by searching in twitter… Thanks in advance!

    • Víctor
      January 26, 2018

      I think it was @kevvwill

      CdR semifinal against Valencia… man, I expect that match to be bonckers.

      Also, word is out that Neymar regrets going to PSG… well, that’s bad, certainly the team doesn’t miss him right now. He wanted to be the star and to get all the attention… well, he got it, just not in the way he wanted to. He certainly didn’t understand that Barça’s philosophy is about being a team first.

  14. Jim
    January 28, 2018

    Ok, I’m not gonna lie. The real reason I’m here today is just to revel in Roger Federer’s performance last night in Australia. I stayed up and Cilic played brilliantly. Took the game to Roger but he didn’t buckle and now has 20 Grand Slams !

    Tenuous footie connection is that I reckon he is the greatest sportsman of all time, At the age of 36 he is still in absolute peak condition when his contemporaries’ bodies are breaking down and that is not only because of natural talent but also because he has economy of movement and perfect balance, just like Messi. Just watch him walking round with the trophy. You can tell an old man by the way he walks. In my thirties all of a sudden I started to sink back onto my heels, he is still walking on the balls of his feet. Unbelievable.

    Another thing our guys have in common with him is that we keep asking them to go to the well again and again and the desire still seems to be there. That’s why we got the tears from Roger at the end. This stuff doesn’t come easy. There’s a lot of doubt, sacrifice, suffering and hard work in there. I still remember him when he was a wild young tennis player throwing racquets right left and centre and abusing officials. He has controlled that and channelled his emotions beautifully so it’s great to see him let it out. Likewise, you have to be amazed at the likes of Messi, Suarez but maybe more particularly Pique Busi and Iniesta who literally have won it all yet come back year after year with the right attitude. We may not win a treble this year, although you certainly wouldn’t bet against it, but if we don’t it won’t be for lack of desire.

    On a more solid footie note talk this morning on my football writers programme about LE being a shoe in for the Chelsea job as Conte committed suicide midweek by criticising his board, and by extension Abrahmovic . That’ll be interesting. It will be a more physical, vertical league so may suit him slightly better but he’ll also be up against a Pep side in full flow by then ( supposedly also with Hazard although no way for me Chelsea would sell to another English team. )

    Finally, looking forward to to tonight’s game, I’m looking for A Coutinho debut on the wing and Iniesta in midfield with Mina giving Pique a well deserved rest after 60 mins. Still needing to see some being moved on though. Time is running out for that.

    • georgjorge
      January 28, 2018

      Thanks for that great comment! I don’t watch much tennis, but it made me wish I would ; )

  15. TITO
    January 28, 2018

    Well, that was much harder than i thought it will be, along with the help from referees.
    But, i’ll take the 3 points.

    • georgjorge
      January 28, 2018

      Very true. What is it about the last few rounds of Liga and Copa, playing teams near the bottom of the league (Espanyol, Alaves, Real Sociedad) and struggling much harder than against better-placed teams?

      Referee help indeed, a strong case could be made for them getting a penalty and us not getting that second goal (respectively the free kick itself). Alaves was good, but there was something missing from our game as well – too many passes in the final third that were hit just too hard, teammates that started just a bit too slow, etc. Maybe it’s that the team plays worse collectively when Messi is having an off day, which he did by his standards. Or it’s both fullbacks being either too reluctant to go forward or not on the same page as their teammates in combination play (though Semedo did well in defense). Things only started happening after they were both subbed off.

      On the plus side, Coutinho looks like he could be extremely strong in a Barca midfield. His first game from the start, and already seeming to understand the play very well. Oh, and how’s that assist for the first goal for someone who “doesn’t influence or decide games”? Incredible play from him.

      • January 29, 2018

        Just when Messi had started dribbling much more than he used to, while Neymar was there, Coutinho arrives and it looked like Messi is trying all what he can to make the new star feel comfortable. I really felt this, especially in the first half.
        But yes, Coutinho definitely would be a good mf for us. He might take more time, but he has the advantage of us in a comfortbale position with the rest of the liga season.
        Other than Messi and Iniesta, we have not Coutinho, Sergi Roberto and Dembele too as ball carriers. Looks very good. Am I wishing too much when I dream of a treble this season.

  16. squeen
    January 29, 2018

    Someone here said the fanbase has been very quiet recently. I’d like to think its because they like what they see. With Coutihno we have as close to a Xavi-esque midfielder as we’ve ever seen in the years since the legend’s departure.

    Also, as Valverde pointed out with his subs, Barca’s style almost demands midfielders with racecar engines as full-back, and honestly that’s not you Semedo (car engine, yes, but midfielder’s touch and vision, no.). Roberto has grown into a very Dani Alves-like role. BIG difference when he’s on the right. As also pointed out here, there also is a pretty noticeable gap between Digne and Alba too.

    All in all, this team (and manager) has got the goods, and they are starting to play like they know it. Tell me, that watching the last game, with an opponent scared, sitting deep with a packed box, and trying to score on the counter—Barca with ridiculous possession stats in the other team’s half—you don’t feel like we’ve turned back the clock circa. 2012?

    Miss Mache.

  17. Davour
    January 29, 2018

    As they say: the kind of win that brings you titles. We did play rather well, I think, until they scored, despite one or two defensive lapses. But then it was like they got a scent of blood and we didn’t have the energy to step it up. I’m sure few are questioning why Sergi is starting ahead of Semedo? Nelson has great potential and pace, but he has some way to go before he understands the associative play; he takes a little too long and seems slightly unsure of himself, which prevents direct passes. He wait and passes back to Piqué. Digne, too, has issues with this (and less potential, though decent back-up), and it is crystal clear how Alba has become key, and Sergi has grown into a playmaking, line breaking FB – not without defensive weaknesses, but overall a new level.

    Coutinho look alright, though naturally he is still looking for his place. RW might not be his best position, but I reckon EV wanted to see him and Iniesta in the same line-up, and Luis seems to prefer LW, too. Phil will come good, no doubt, but let’s remember that he is no Iniesta replacement – and, really, nowhere near the same quality – but will offer other qualities.

    There was sloppiness across the entire team, but this happens; they were not switched on, but did not look particularly tired, to me. Hoping for an easier ride, perhaps. We’ll see the state of things against Valencia.

  18. squeen
    January 29, 2018

    Forgot to mention that with a team sitting deep, it was retro seeing Iniesta playing so high and making darting runs into the box. His unworldly strength is really in congested places.

    I am feeling good about Coutinho’s immediate quality, but certainly there is no replacing Iniesta.

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