Mascherano looking for fresh start with Hebei

AP
Argentina's Javier Mascherano becomes the Chinese Super League's most high-profile signing this year after Hebei China Fortune confirmed he was heading to China from Barcelona. 
AP
Reuters

Barcelona FC president Josep Maria Bartomeu (left) and defender Javier Mascherano pose with a framed picture of the Argentine and the major trophies he won with the club during a farewell ceremony in Barcelona on Wednesday ahead of his transfer to China. 

Javier Mascherano bid farewell to Barcelona on Wednesday, saying he has lost the will to keep fighting to be a starter and needed a fresh start somewhere else.

The 33-year-old Argentine defender, who is joining Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune, said he felt he wouldn’t be able to remain significant for Barcelona and it was best to leave on good terms.

“I had been thinking about this for some time,” said Mascherano, who at times struggled to hold back tears. “I’ve always said that the hardest part about playing for Barca was that one day I would have to leave the club. But you have to make decisions. As time passed, it was becoming clear that I was losing space as a protagonist and everything was becoming harder for me. Before putting the club in a position to make a decision and risk ending things in a bad way, I decided to reach a solution that was satisfactory for both parts.”

Mascherano made his comments in a farewell ceremony organized by the club in the presence of president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad. Former players such as defender Carles Puyol also attended.

“It takes a toll to be in a place for so long,” said Mascherano, who stayed almost eight seasons with the Spanish club. “I didn’t have the same strength that I had before to keep fighting for a place in the starting lineup. Sometimes you need to reset and to start over and seek new challenges in different places.”

His teammates recorded video messages that were shown during the ceremony at Camp Nou. He will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday's home game against Espanyol in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Mascherano arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but hadn’t been playing much as coach Ernesto Valverde preferred to use Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti as the regular starters in the middle of the defense. The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost the defense. Thomas Vermaelen, who is injured, is the other central defender.

“It was a dream to come play for Barcelona,” Mascherano said. “Now I’m waking up and the dream is coming to an end.”

AFP

From right: Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, midfielder Andres Iniesta, forward Lionel Messi, midfielder Sergio Busquets and defender Gerard Pique attend a farewell ceremony for Javier Mascherano. 

The 33-year-old will link up with Argentine compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi at a side coached by former Real Madrid and Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini.

“After discussions with FC Barcelona and the player, we hereby announce that the Argentina captain Javier Mascherano has officially joined Hebei China Fortune Football Club,” Hebei, which is based in the northern city of Qinhuangdao, said.

“He will wear the number 14 shirt in the new Chinese Super League season. We warmly welcome him and hope he can lead the team to a higher level.”

Last month, Sport, a Catalan daily, said that Hebei had reached a 2-year deal to sign Mascherano for 10 million euros (US$12.2 million). Chinese media, however, put the transfer fee at 5.5 million euros, saying that is just under the threshold that would trigger a 100 percent tax under rules imposed by the CFA on incoming foreign transfers last May. 

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