So the second best Argentinian ever to play for West Ham has now turned into the best footballer in the world. Well – he has if you believe Roy Hodgson anyway. The England manager shocked football this month by selecting former Hammer and Hayden Mullins understudy Javier Mascherano as his number one pick for Fifa’s Ballon d’Or.
Not keen on the free-flowing attacking flair offered by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, Roy instead opted for the rugged charms of a tough-tackling holding midfielder, while his other picks (Germans Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer) also paid tribute to the art of defending. His critics have since used this as further evidence for their argument that the Three Lions boss is out of his depth. That he doesn’t understand football, that his selection summed up a negative philosophy that is holding England back.
But was it really such a bad decision? This of course comes down to how you judge the contribution of an individual player in a team game. Too often our eyes can be drawn to attacking players and we fail to appreciate the unglamorous and dirty work that goes on in the background to get the ball to them in the first place.
Often these players are only appreciated after they have gone. At the turn of the century Real Madrid were seemingly obsessed with every attacking superstar they could get their hands upon, but, once they sold Claude Makelele to Chelsea the trophies dried up.
Mascherano was, if you remember, magnificent at the World Cup in Brazil. On the biggest stage of all he shone and arguably played a much bigger role than Messi in dragging La Albiceleste into the World Cup final. In reality, comparing a forward like Ronaldo with a defensive midfielder like Mascherano or goalkeeper like Neuer is pointless.
It’s like debating whether the wheel or the engine is the most important part of the car, when to have a smooth ride you need both to be working together. Instead, all we can take from Roy’s musings is further evidence that West Ham had a very talented player on their hands in 2006-07, and one who clearly had more to offer than sitting on the bench watching the keen but limited Mullins run around. It remains one of the great tragedies of our club’s history that we didn’t get to see anything like the best of Mascherano at Upton Park. Even if he’s not as good as Ronaldo.