Javier Mascherano: 'I played centre-back to survive at Barcelona'
Javier Mascherano has told Gerard Pique in an interview for The Players' Tribune that it was a "thankless task" to be a defender at Barcelona at times and that playing out of position was the reason he considered leaving the club on more than one occasion.
Mascherano left Barca for Hebei Fortune this month but came close to departing several times in the last few years, including for Juventus in 2016.
The Argentina international says the reason he thought about leaving so many times was due to his desire to return to midfield, his natural position before Pep Guardiola converted him to a centre-back at Camp Nou.
"Let's just say my time at Barcelona is one of contrast in that regard," Mascherano told Pique when asked how he felt about playing out of position. "Because the best years of my career, where I could enjoy myself the most [were at Barcelona], I felt complete as a footballer, but I didn't get the chance to play as a midfielder.
"But [maybe] that is as if your glass is half empty. Those were the cards which were dealt. But when I had doubts about leaving before, that was why. No one knows better than you [Pique] how thankless a task it is to be a Barca defender. One mistake and you pay dearly."
However, Mascherano, who spent seven-and-a-half years at the club after arriving from Liverpool in 2010, says his determination to succeed at Barca and to win trophies meant he was happy to compromise.
"I adapted as I went along," he added. "The first game I played [as a centre-back] was in Donetsk in the Champions League. I had no idea I was going to play. Pep gives the lineup and he puts me in as a central defender. We had not even spoken about it before.
"It was my chance. It was the only way to hold on to something. To survive here and to stay in a team like this, I thought: 'I am going to have a lot more opportunities as a central defender than as a midfielder.' I found that spot and tried to hold on to it. I have always tried to live football from a survivalist perspective."
Mascherano said farewell to Barcelona last week, insisting that the moment had arrived to move on because he had lost his importance in the team and had been replaced alongside Pique by Samuel Umtiti.
He left after making 334 official appearances for Barcelona under five different coaches -- Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Tata Martino, Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde -- and having won 17 trophies.
Hebei Fortune coach Manuel Pellegrini, who worked with Mascherano at River Plate over a decade ago, said it was easy to convince him to join him in China.
Mascherano, who will turn 34 in the summer, said he hoped the move would provide him with regular football ahead of the World Cup, which will be his last tournament before he retires from international football.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.