It’s not often that a relegation-threatened football club turns their back on a future Barcelona captain – and somehow gets fined into near oblivion while doing it.
But that’s exactly what happened at none other than West Ham United, when world-renowned footballer Javier Mascherano became a Hammer for a brief and miserable part of his otherwise illustrious career.
The talented midfielder and controversial former West Ham signing has now decided to hang up his boots and retire from professional football and a successful post-West Ham career, where he shone in league football at Liverpool and Barcelona.
Internationally, his career has also been an outstanding success – he retires as the most capped player in the history of the Argentinian side. He even represented Argentina internationally before making his senior club debut – a rare feat for players all over the globe.
Mascherano began his professional career in Argentina by climbing through the youth system and into the first team at River Plate.
In 2005, Mascherano moved to Brazillian Serie A side Corithians, but soon suffered a foot injury which kept him out of action for six months. He returned to action in March 2006, when he began to attract the attention of European clubs.
The young player expressed a desire to play in Spain for Real Madrid or Barcelona, so naturally he signed for West Ham United.
He had dreams of sunshine and European glory, but instead, he found he was no match for young Englishman Hayden Mullins.
His dreams came to fade and die in the rainy backstreets of Plaistow while he wasted away on the substitutes bench and became the lesser known of two figureheads in a sneaky – and ultimately very costly – financial mess.
In the summer of 2006, Mascherano and his Corithinians teammate, one Carlos Tevez (you probably haven’t heard of him), arrived at West Ham United.
The news was shocking to most – West Ham finished the 2005-06 season in a surprisingly lofty ninth place, and did not outwardly seem to have the means to attract players of this calibre.
That was not an unreasonable thought to have, as it transpired that West Ham did not in fact actually own these players, and that their registration was held by third parties, namely ‘Mystere Services’ and ‘Global Soccer Agencies’ – neither of whom were at the helm at Upton Park.
This quickly became a problem and would eventually lead to West Ham being charged with breaking rules “B13” and “U18” – which are rules involving ‘good faith’ and ‘third-party ownership,’ both of which they should definitely not have broken.
It was a shameful situation, and we were issued with a then world-record fine of £5.5 million pounds for our trickery – but no points deduction, something considered odd at the time and downright criminal to those at the helm of fellow Premier League strugglers Sheffield United.
More financial punishment was to follow when it came to the other of the two Argentinians, Carlos Tevez, who scored on the last day of the season to keep West Ham in the Premier League and relegated a Sheffield United team on goal difference who couldn’t even muster a point at home to Wigan.
At this point, Sheffield United ‘pulled a Trump’ and filed every lawsuit they could think of to change their fortunes, and eventually settled out of court for a stunning financial amount which impacted West Ham’s transfer fund for years to come, something that almost certainly contributed to West Ham never quite escaping being mid-table and relegation threatened fodder.
Mascherano did not stick around to see West Ham get fined into the ground. At the point of his arrival at the club, West Ham were not good at football, and his presence in east London abruptly descended into farce.
West Ham immediately lost eight games and drew just the one, while Mascherano largely watched this absolute maelstrom of a football club implode from his seat on the bench, as Mullins (nice guy, zero senior international caps) started and played the bulk of the available matches.
It was not working out for Javier, and Macherano wasn’t the only one unhappy at his predicament.
Argentina national coach Alfio Basile stated that he hoped Mascherano would leave West Ham ‘as soon as possible’, and added that he ‘hope(s) for God’s sake that Mascherano can go to Juventus’.
Fortunately for the bemused bench-warming Argentinian, in January 2007 his services were requested at Liverpool – but even this transition wasn’t to go smoothly.
Mascherano had already played for too many clubs during this time period, and added to this was the confusing ownership of the player, so the Premier League decided to investigate before approving this deal. It took until 10 February for his claret and blue nightmare to be over.
Unsurprisingly, the world class midfielder absolutely shone at Liverpool, largely as he was actually given playing time.
He quickly became a regular starter, and played a role in their Champions League campaign, including playing in the Champions League final that year.
It was a far cry from Green Street and five consecutive losses without a single West Ham goal being scored. He eventually permanently signed for Liverpool, and broke his ties with Media Sports Investments.
His time at Liverpool was successful – although his temperament did raise some eyebrows, particularly when his seven yellow and two red cards gave him the title of the worst disciplinary record of the 2009-10 Premier League season.
He was also given a four-match suspension for a foul in 2009, and an incident in 2008 saw him booked for a foul, sent off for challenging the referee and then pulled from the pitch by his teammates.
With an attitude like that and a propensity for getting booked, it’s an even greater shame it never worked out for him at West Ham as he’d have given Tomas Repka and Kevin Nolan a run for their money in the disciplinarian history books.
Mascherano stayed at Liverpool until 2010, when, four years after he had dreamed of sunshine and Spain, he was finally signed on a four year contract for Barcelona.
He won the Champions League with Barcelona in his first season with them, and just a year later signed a contract extension to extend his stay in Spain.
Two years later, he extended his contract again and in 2015 he became Barcelona’s club captain; a truly remarkable feat for the man who failed to impress Alan Pardew enough to get playing time in east London.
Mascherano’s playing career is an enviable one, but one that, most notably for West Ham fans, is surrounded with bemusement and perhaps a tinge of regret.
He was undoubtedly one of the most talented professional footballers to don a claret and blue shirt in recent years, but we rarely saw him in it.
Perhaps in a different life, a different universe, a different manager; but for now, Javier remains the one that got away as well as perhaps the one that never should have arrived in the first place.