Mascherano's Greatest Value to Liverpool Now Can Be Counted in Pounds

Zachary OstermanCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2010

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 03:  Sami Khedira of Germany and Javier Mascherano of Argentina tussle for the ball during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Quarter Final match between Argentina and Germany at Green Point Stadium on July 3, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

(Mascherano's as good as gone at Anfield, and there's little wrong with that.)

Roy Hodgson had to lose a player at some point.

He said goodbye to Benayoun, to Riera, and soon to Insua and Degen. But those departures have been of mutual consent, with the manager ready to cut away some of the dead meat at Anfield since his arrival.

He seems far less willing to let Javier Mascherano—captain of the Argentine national team and inarguably one of the world's best defensive midfielders—float away. But perhaps it's for the best.

Yes, it's true that Mascherano has been an integral part of Liverpool's fortunes since his arrival in 2007. (Although I do strongly recommend reading an excellent bit from the other side of that opinion by Football365's Sarah Winterburn.) And while he didn't receive the same attention as Steven Gerrard or Fernando Torres or Xabi Alonso during that almost season of 2008-09, the combative midfielder was as much a spark plug for that season's success as anyone.

But Mascherano's greatest value to Liverpool was so incredibly one-dimensional that it eventually turned into a team weakness.

During that successful runner-up season, Mascherano was pivotal in his ability to win balls in midfield and move them quickly to Alonso, who would then initiate the Liverpool attack with his passing. The Argentinian, talented as he was, offered nothing going forward, apart from two goals in four years and countless long-range efforts, most of which went predictably begging.

With Alonso off to Madrid, Mascherano's teaming with Lucas left Liverpool trying to dance with two left feet in central midfield. The creativity was gone, and suddenly, Gerrard and Torres looked remarkably ineffective and isolated.

It's been talked about time and again, the value of a good defensive midfielder to support attack—Claude Makelele, Patrick Viera. But that midfielder wasn't Mascherano, it was Alonso, and his departure, coupled with Liverpool's inability to replace him, turned Mascherano into a walking yellow card with superb tackling ability.

Lucas bore the brunt of the criticism for the Reds' creative shortcomings last season, but there's no reason some of the burden of blame shouldn't have fallen on Mascherano just the same. And while he's not the player Mascherano is, Lucas is still a solid replacement, without quite the same penchant for disciplinary and attitude problems.

In truth, it's hard to say Mascherano ever felt 100 percent like a Liverpool player. He was peddled to West Ham, along with Carlos Tevez, by an agent who appeared to all but own the players himself, before moving to Liverpool on loan. It wasn't clear if he would be able to join the Reds, his future only secured by a late bid from the ever-stubborn Rafa Benitez. And it took him hardly two years to decide he wanted out, even after coming within a whisker of the club's first-ever Premiership title. 

Liverpool are, as is plain to see, at a crossroads, a club now given direction but still in need of troops to march. There still exists a creative need in midfield, attacking support for Torres and defensive cover to be gathered. Selling Mascherano — or moving him in a players-plus-cash deal, as has been reported as a possibility — would benefit Liverpool far more than keeping a player whose immense talent would only, presumably, be outweighed by his desire to be anywhere else but where he was.

Fans and press have likened the club to a sinking ship, saddled by a publicized debt crisis, a looming takeover and a sliding reputation. If Hodgson is going to steer Liverpool out of danger, he needs all hands on deck, ready for action. For the right price, Mascherano can afford to be thrown overboard.