Liverpool's hopes of securing Javier Mascherano's return may be stretched after Luis Enrique suggested the Argentinian could be his new captain at Barcelona.
Despite reports Mascherano may return to the Premier League, as noted by Ben Jefferson of the Express, Enrique has outlined the Argentinian battler as a potential leader, as reported by Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC:
Luis Enrique: "Mascherano is an example of someone with character to be captain. Good & important players will stay."— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) May 21, 2014
Jefferson's report suggests Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal may try to tempt Mascherano back to English shores. Napoli are also said to be hot on his heels, a rumour fuelled by the player's agent discussing Mascherano's yearning to play in midfield instead of the centre-back position he has fulfilled at the Camp Nou.
"[Rafael] Benitez would like Mascherano and he's evaluating different options to try signing him," said Bernardo Brovarone, the player's representative, per Italy's Radio CRC and via Jefferson. "Why does he want to leave Barcelona? The club told him he won't play in the middle of the park, so when choosing his next destination, that will be a fundamental thing."
Enrique is yet to suggest how he will use Mascherano if the player stays. Mascherano's current contract runs out in June 2016 and has a buyout clause of €100 million, according to ESPN.com. This ensures Enrique will feel no rush to secure Mascherano's future and will only be forced into letting him leave if a ridiculous bid comes in.
The 29-year-old is more likely to fetch in the region of £9 million (just over €11 million), per Jamie McLaughlin of the Metro. Guillem Balague, Sky Sports' resident Spanish football expert and Bleacher Report UK guest columnist, believes Mascherano is among the players Barcelona are willing to sell:
List of players that the club will listen for offers (doesn't mean they are going for sure): Cesc, Alves, Adriano, Alexis, Mascherano, Pedro— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) May 19, 2014
Still, talkSport writer Lee Roden believes Enrique will wish to keep Mascherano in Catalonia:
I don't think Lucho will be keen to lose Mascherano without a fight. A natural leader and useful in a changed role.— Lee Roden (@LeeRoden89) May 21, 2014
Mascherano made 37 appearances at centre-back across La Liga and the Champions League this season, per WhoScored.com. He performed well despite his obvious shortcomings in the air, racking up 3.2 tackles, 2.9 interceptions and 3.3 clearances each game. Opposition dribbled beyond him just 0.8 times per match, highlighting the player's efficiency when battling with an array of threats.
Where is Javier Mascherano's best position?
The natural ball-winner possesses a passing game that is stunted when in defence. Even so, it's optimistic to suggest he will oust players such as Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas from their midfield roles at the club. Considering Barca are expecting to secure further world-class talent in the summer, Mascherano's future appears finely balanced.
There's no denying the experienced player would aid any Premier League club's quest for glory. His pit-bull approach provides an added steel that isn't always best promoted in the Barcelona defence. Liverpool will be looking for a leader after failing to secure the domestic title, someone who is proven in the division, and they could do a lot worse than re-signing their former midfield star.