Javier Mascherano: “As a defender I don’t take the field relaxed like Gerard Piqué”
Javier Mascherano spoke to La Gazetta dello Sport about his career, playing with Busquets, his relationship with Rafa Benitez and why he is not as relaxed on the pitch as Piqué
You may have to square off against River Plate in the final on December 20.
I was happy there, but not entirely. I’d like to return and end things where I started, but not at all costs. If I’m not able to bring River what I brought to other clubs then I won’t return. I must be in good health and the club must need me.
They also want you as a future coach.
I still want to play and extend my career though. There will be time to prepare to be a coach. It’s one thing to try, it’s another thing to be able to do it.
Is it more difficult to get the respect of the players or to implant a playing idea into their minds?
The biggest complexity is managing a group of 25 to 30 people, some of whom are more important than others, some that play more than others… As a coach you can bring in a new idea but in the end the players decide things on the pitch. I like to try and get into the mind of the coach when he makes a decision, to try and understand him.
How did you take to Pep Guardiola’s decision to move you into central defense?
A coach can convince you with his complicity and affection. Or with his knowledge. Guardiola loved to talk about football for hours and I do, too. I learned new ideas from him. It was tough at the beginning but I knew that I needed to learn.
Now will you retire as a defender?
No, I hope that one day I’ll play as a midfielder again. What I don’t know is if I’ll do that at Barça, although I don’t think so. I feel good as a defender, but I always think of myself as a defensive midfielder.
If you remained a midfielder what kind of career would you have had with Barcelona?
I don’t think I would be here today and I wouldn’t have won all that I did with Barca. I’m sure of that.
Have you changed as a player?
Naturally. You can’t play for a club like this if you don’t evolve. Talent isn’t enough. I’ve polished some aspects and [I] play differently.
Is it not possible to see you play as a pairing with Sergio Busquets?
Barça fans are used to seeing the team play a certain way, and playing with two pivots is considered defensive. As a result our play would suffer and we would have fewer people in attack. It doesn’t mean that other clubs can’t play with two central midfielders, as we did that at Liverpool. Here it is a 4-3-3 and if I play with Busquets then he plays in midfield.
Do you feel more pressure if you play in his place?
The opposite. I feel more liberated. Yes, I suffer when I play as I don’t enjoy matches as I must remain concentrated for 90 minutes. I only enjoy myself in training. As a defender I don’t take the field relaxed like Gerard Piqué. But defending is also an art.
You have more scars than tattoos.
Yes, that’s true, I don’t have any tattoos. I’ve never followed fashion, I’m atypical. I only enjoy the game of football, training, trying to improve myself, not the fame or the other side effects. I don’t like being famous; not being able to go for a walk or something and having to stay at home.
Last year Barça won their second treble.
It wasn’t easy. We eliminated four domestic winners in Manchester City, PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus. We beat all of them except for Bayern in Munich. It was one of the tougher Champions Leagues of recent years.
However many believe you only won because of the front three.
We must be realistic. You can defend as well as you want but if you don’t have talent in attack then it is difficult to win. At the end of the day playing good football matters. However it’s also true we had the best defense in La Liga last season, but that doesn’t mean it was all down to the defense.
Your defense starts in attack.
Exactly. We defend in blocks and we press high up the pitch. We usually have three defensive players in Busquets and the two defenders. Even the full backs are used to attack.
You didn’t play that much at West Ham United when you landed in Europe in 2006, but Rafa Benitez wanted you at Liverpool in 2007.
And four months later I was in the Champions League final! He wanted me at Valencia when I played for River Plate. However my mind was set on moving to Serie A and La Liga after London. I met with a few Juve directors, but they were in Serie B. I asked him where I would play considering he already had Xabi Alonso, Mohammed Sissoko and Steven Gerrard, but he said none of them had the qualities that I had.
However you didn’t play that much under Alan Pardew at West Ham United.
It was frustrating to join after a World Cup and having the manager to ask what position I played. However I continued to push forward for six months. That is why I was ready to play for Benitez right away.
Rafa also wanted to bring you to Napoli in 2014.
Yes, it’s true. We talked, but given he now coaches Real Madrid we don’t do it as often. I must thank him from saving me from the blackhole I was in. He is a great man, a studious coach and an excellent teacher.
In almost 670 matches you’ve only scored 10 goals, zero of which have come with Barça in 250 matches. Have your daughters given up on having one dedicated to them?
Luckily my wife and daughters don’t like watching football. It’s hard to watch football at home, but it helps me relax a lot.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
This interview was published in Italian on La Gazetta dello Sport.
TRANSLATED BY: Diana Uzum
Barcelona fan since the days of Kluivert and Rivaldo. Been here for the good, the bad and the ugly.