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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Mascherano and Tevez share similar histories but are poles apart in how they will be remembered by respective clubs Barcelona and Shanghai

Both men are on the move in January with one leaving for China and the other departing the country, but their departures could not be anymore different.

Javier Mascherano, right, was given a big farewell by Barcelona on Wednesday, including received a framed picture from club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Luis Gene / AFP
Javier Mascherano, right, was given a big farewell by Barcelona on Wednesday, including received a framed picture from club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Luis Gene / AFP

Barcelona on Wednesday gave one of their favourites a very special send-off. There have been far bigger stars who left the Catalan club in the last decade – Ronaldinho, for instance, and certainly Neymar – who received nothing like the show put on Javier Mascherano at Camp Nou.

An auditorium was put aside, film-makers commissioned, and all his teammates in attendance.

On Thursday, ahead of the Copa del Rey match against Espanyol, Barca’s fans will be invited to applaud the Argentinian whose six and a half years at Camp Nou are to end with his transfer to Hebei Fortune in China.

“You are the example any foreign player coming to Barcelona should look to,” Xavi Hernandez, the former Barcelona captain and local hero who shared two Uefa Champions League triumphs at the club with Mascherano, said in a video tribute shown at the event. “Your conduct has been exemplary.”

The words were chosen carefully. Barcelona can be a hard club to fit into for those who have grown up outside its structures, and every one of Mascherano’s 334 matches for Barca were evidence of his resourcefulness and his collegiate instincts.

His transfer coincides with the latest in the odyssey of his one-time colleague, compatriot and intrepid former travelling companion, Carlos Tevez, who has just moved from China back to Boca Juniors in his native Buenos Aires.

Boca fans were very happy to welcome Tevez back there, just in time for last weekend’s clasico against River Plate, because Tevez is a folk idol at Boca.

But Tevez will not expect the same glow of appreciation that Mascherano carries in his wake from the place he has left. Tevez kicked up some dust by declaring that his stint in Chinese football, where he was among the highest paid players in the world while at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, felt “like a holiday”.

Carlos Tevez moved to Boca Juniors in January after a stint to forget in China. Eitan Abramovich / AFP
Carlos Tevez moved to Boca Juniors in January after a stint to forget in China. Eitan Abramovich / AFP

Mascherano, adept with the media and assured with his public comments, will not be deriding Chinese football imminently. But then he and Tevez always seemed cut from very different cloth.

That was part of the fascination in their relationship, which grew close as they explored new frontiers in tandem as boys and young men. They are both 33 now, made their debuts for Argentina’s under 17s at more or less the same time.

Though they started off in club football at the opposite poles of Buenos Aires - with Mascherano the diminutive, understated but combative midfielder of River and Tevez the growling goalscorer at Diego Maradona’s old club, Boca – they became like chaperones to one another.

They chose an unusual route to the top, exiting Argentinian football not directly to Europe but via Corinthians in Brazil, from where they both joined West Ham United via a third-party ownership scheme that was to conflict with Premier League regulations and lead to a series of controversies and disputes over the very legitimacy of West Ham’s place in England’s top division.

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Back then, in 2006, the arrival of a pair of World Cup footballers from Argentina in East London was a feather in the cap of English football.

They were destined to rise. Liverpool took on Mascherano, and Tevez joined Manchester United, on loan from his ownership company. Mascherano galvanised Liverpool’s midfield. Tevez added gumption and guile to United’s attack, won a Champions League title there but then pushed for a move, and chose a path of confrontation.

His name alone remains the reference point for a shifting balance of power in Manchester. He joined City, red to sky-blue, and would wear the captain’s armband and collect a league title at Manchester’s most upwardly mobile club.

But he also effectively went on strike, fell out with his manager Roberto Mancini and acquired as much notoriety as praise.

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By the time Mascherano and Tevez met, as players for Barcelona and Juventus, in the Champions League final of 2015, the midfielder had metamorphosed as a central defender, whose speed and positional sense made up for his short stature and whose attitude at Barcelona had drawn such universal respect.

“I came to a club with the best midfield in the world, so I had to adapt,” he said on Wednesday. Mascherano’s passing was never going to eclipse that of Xavi or Sergio Busquets nor would he ever dribble like Andres Iniesta. So he remoulded his skills to where he might earn a role. For that sacrifice and endeavour, Barcelona rolled out the red carpet at his farewell.

Tevez’s sacrifices? Well, they were often concealed. He was the indignant figure who refused to take orders at City, to bend to United’s wishes. But you will seldom hear a word against his level of industry from his old friend Mascherano.