Albiceleste hero and the national side’s most capped player, Javier Masherano, has announced his retirement from football, aged 36.
The defensive midfielder, a stalwart of the national side since he was 19, said he was hanging up his boots at the right time, describing it as “the most correct thing to do,” and saying he was unable to perform to his satisfaction.
A winner of two Champions Leagues and four Spanish league titles with Barcelona, Mascherano was capped 147 times for Argentina’s national side and was part of the side that lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil.
The Albiceleste legend announced his decision to retire at a press conference after his club side, Estudiantes de La Plata, lost to Argentinos Juniors in the Copa de la Liga Profesional on Sunday.
"I want to announce that today I am retiring from professional football. I want to thank this club that gave me the opportunity to finish my career in Argentina," said Masche, who wasn’t expected to speak post-match.
“It is time to finish my career because of things that have happened to me in recent months. On a personal level and after having thought about it for all this time, the most correct thing is to finish today,” he said, flanked by coach Leandro Desábato.
"I have lived my profession 100 percent, I gave the best I could, and for a while now that has been getting harder. I do not want to disrespect Estudiantes, who trusted me to return to Argentina, or my colleagues, or this profession.
"It does not have to do with the club or with a result, but with a sense that one is feeling over recent times, which makes the illusion that one had of being a footballer fade.”
Mascherano said he was hanging up his boots at the right time, describing it as “the most correct thing to do.”
The tenacious midfielder said that the upheaval sparked by the coronavirus pandemic had played a part in his decision to give up the game.
"I went back to pre-season and I thought that I was going to feel the illusion again, and the truth is that I couldn't [feel it]. It is time to step aside. I am grateful to Estudiantes, who gave me the opportunity to finish my career in Argentina,” said Mascherano.
"Sometimes you don't choose the end, it happens all by itself," he concluded.
Javier Mascherano is one of Argentina’s most beloved players, seen as someone who always fought as hard as he could for the light-blue-and-white shirt.
Tipped as a leader and standout player from a very young age – he was nicknamed ‘Jefecito’ as a youngster – he began his 17-year club career in 2003 with local giants River Plate and took in spells with Corinthians, Liverpool and Barcelona, among other clubs, during a glittering playing career.
Mascherano made his debut for the national side aged just 19 on July 16, 2003, in a 2-2- draw against Uruguay. In a sign of how highly he was rated, that came two weeks before his top-flight debut for River.
His performances for the Millo elevated his reputation rapidly and after two years, he was sold to Brazilian side Corinthians for a whopping US$15 million. After just a year in Brazil, the Premier League came calling, as: Mascherano moved with teammate and fellow compatriot Carlos Tevez to West Ham United in a multi-million-pound double transfer that sparked a wider debate about third-party ownership in football.
With distractions raging off the pitch, Mascherano failed to settle on it and the Hammers went into free-fall, losing a string of games. The Argentine was out of the team and after just six months, he was loaned to Liverpool, where he teamed up with Spanish coach Rafa Benitez and became a key part of the team’s spine, helping take the side to another Champions League final.
After three seasons, Mascherano decided he wanted to leave Liverpool, eyeing a move to Spanish giants Barcelona. Upon his arrival in Catalonia in August 2010, however, things were far from settled again – it was unclear whether he would play in central midfield or at centre half and the Argentine international struggled for form.
Eventually, the Argentine’s humble leadership, commitment to the team and dedication won over fans as the side went on a trophy-laden run of 18 trophies in eight seasons, which saw him seize two Champions League titles and four league titles.
By the time he departed Barça in January 2018, Mascherano ranked among the top five foreign players in the club’s history in terms of performances.
The Argentine destroyer then spent 20 months with Chinese Super League side Hebei Fortune, but Mascherano was eager to return home. In November 2019, he returned to play for Estudiantes de la Plata in Argentina, though his return was cut short by the arrival of Covid-19 in the country, which saw games suspended for almost eight months.
For many though, especially those in his homeland, Mascherano will be most fondly remembered for his time with the Albiceleste. A calming, consistent presence, he won two Olympic gold medals (2004 and 2008) with the national side, as well as taking the side to the World Cup final in 2014.
Many have disappointed for the national team since Argentina last lifted the World Cup, but Javier Mascherano always did himself – and his country – proud.