Report: Barcelona star to quit club for more playing time ahead of 2018 World Cup
What's the story?
According to various reports, Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano is set to leave the club in the January transfer window. The 33-year-old, who can also play as a defensive midfielder, is set to move to the Chinese Super League and join Hebei China Fortune - according to ESPN.
The Argentina international would cost the Chinese club €10m as he has a contract with the La Liga club that runs until the summer of 2019. The player's agent Walter Tamer has reportedly confirmed that Barcelona accepted the €10m offer.
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Mascherano has been barely utilised by Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde this season. He has only played 451 minutes in the league and made just one start in the UEFA Champions League.
It is a significant drop in game time for the defender considering he played 33 times in both competitions last season, clocking over 2,500 minutes.
The heart of the matter
Mascherano had previously said that the 2018 World Cup would be his last and that he planned to retire from international football after the tournament. However, his lack of playing time with Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, and Paulinho above him in the pecking order has seen him re-evaluate his options.
Hebei China Fortune is managed by fellow South American Manuel Pellegrini and the manager could give him the game time he needs before the World Cup kicks off in Russia in six months.
"On field, he brings a lot, as well as in the locker room. He's a veteran and everyone respects him, just the way he is." - Valverde on Mascherano
The Chinese transfer window is open for two months (1 January to 28 February) and the move would significantly increase his wages to a reported €19m for two seasons.
Video: Best of Mascherano in 2016/17
This is a move beneficial for both the player and the club. Barcelona have barely used Mascherano this season and it does not look like Valverde trusts him to deliver in big games.
The move will also free up nearly €5.5m a year in player wages which Barcelona can now use to spend on a replacement. 21-year-old Gremio midfielder Arthur Melo has been linked with the club and was even photogrpahed wearing a Barca kit when he met Barcelona directors for lunch earlier this month.
For Mascherano, regular football (at least from March to June) will keep him in shape and available for selection before the final Argentina squad for the World Cup is announced.