Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano has revealed he came close to joining the club's El Clasico rivals Real Madrid early in his career.
Mascherano is approaching the end of his eighth season at the Camp Nou but could have ended up plying his trade for Los Blancos after he told Argentinian magazine El Grafico (h/t Daily Star's Rhys Turrell):
"I do not know how close, but there was a contact from the sports director with my representative in 2004, when he was at the Olympics in Athens [Greece], and I do not know what happened.
"Fate ended up being the opposite six years later, the turns of life."
The central-midfielder-turned-centre-back was still at boyhood club River Plate at the time when Real raised their interest in his services, but he moved to Brazilian outfit Corinthians in 2005 and West Ham United a year later.
The 33-year-old found his way to Barcelona via Liverpool in 2010 and has since accomplished great things at the Camp Nou, although he recently conceded a departure from the club beckons, via Goal:
Javier Mascherano sees his storied Barcelona tenure coming to an end https://t.co/fh74QQ7oL4 https://t.co/zK6lQfl2eH2017-11-30 19:29:19
Four La Liga titles, four Copa del Reys, two UEFA Champions League triumphs and two FIFA Club World Cups serve as evidence to how successful his stay in Catalonia has been.
But Mascherano's career could have been far different, and one can debate as to how badly Barca might have been impacted without his contributions in defence and midfield down the years had they not recruited him.
The veteran utility star may not grab the same amount of headlines as some of his longer-serving peers due to his style of play, but Sky Sports Statto recently showed how experienced the player is in Europe:
Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto
Most CL appearances by South Americans 120 – Lionel Messi 120 – Roberto Carlos 105 – Dani Alves 97 – Javier Zanetti 96 – Javier Mascherano #UCL https://t.co/1N8Ee8KlXP2017-11-22 21:25:48
Consistency is one attribute one might award to Mascherano given the level of play he's been able to sustain, helping Barca's defence outlast the departures of figures like Carlos Puyol and Victor Valdes.
Mascherano is no longer considered a key member of the defence, however, and has started only eight games this season while Samuel Umtiti has taken over as the preferred option next to Gerard Pique.