The coming season in Catalunya looks set to be one of transition and great change. Luis Enrique takes over on the Barcelona bench to become the third coach in as many years, and the ex-Blaugrana favourite as a player faces a slew of challenges in order to reverse a trophyless campaign in 2013/14.
One of the former Roma coach's first duties was to oversee the new men in the Barcelona captain's hierarchy. Retired central defender Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, one of Puyol's deputies, were out; and typically for the Catalan institution, a vote was held to determine who would succeed the outgoing idols.
Ultimately, the ballot threw up few surprises. Club legend Xavi, rewarded for having stayed with the Cules for what will be his 17th season as a first-team player, was voted as Puyol's replacement in the top job, as confirmed by Barcelona's official website. But one interesting oversight occurred in naming the men next in line for the coveted armband.
Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets: perhaps one name is missing from that list. Argentinian star Javier Mascherano, versatile enough to play in the centre of defence or midfield and in the absolute prime of his career, was overlooked by his team-mates in the fight for one of the captaincy slots.
El Jefecito does not need a piece of fabric wrapped around his arm to know that on the pitch, few lead more effectively than he does. The midfielder is an incessant encouragement to his team-mates, cajoling, shouting, provoking the best out of those around him. Just witness his inspirational pep talk to Sergio Romero before the World Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out against the Netherlands.
"Today you are going to become a hero," he repeated to the goalkeeper, who was heavily questioned before the World Cup had even begun. Romero responded, saving two penalties to send Argentina through to the final and, just as Masche had predicted, assuring his place in the Albiceleste Hall of Fame in the process.
The international parallel is interesting. Mascherano suffered what was arguably an even bigger snub in 2011, when new coach Alejandro Sabella stripped him of the captaincy in favour of Messi, calculating that it was the best way to get the most out of his star. The midfielder never complained, declining even to talk about the removal of the honour.
That is because, while Messi was the idol and figurehead, his Barcelona team-mate was still the leader on the pitch. Mascherano leads by example, putting his body on the line time and again for the cause, inspiring a confidence and unity in his companions that is hard to emulate. While other, flashier players picked up the individual awards in Brazil, it was the combative midfielder who was probably the stand-out performer across the World Cup.
Whether it is Xavi or one of his three deputies who hold the armband on any given matchday, they can rest easy. In Mascherano they have one of the best lieutenants around, a man who will rally the troops and provide an invaluable service for the Blaugrana as they look to turn over a new leaf at the start of the Luis Enrique era.
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