Javier Mascherano’s rise from squad player to first team regular at FC Barcelona is a example to young players everywhere: Seeking out challenges, switching positions, playing to his strengths and selflessly putting the team first Mascherano is a role model for all.
Mascherano is an example of a player with a positive mindset. He has adapted, evolved and grown as a player at FC Barcelona. However it could of all been very different if it not for this – career defining – tackle.
Playing to his strengths
Talking before the first leg of the recent Champions League tie against Arsenal, Javier highlighted this tackle (on Nicholas Bendtner) as the turning point in his Barcelona career. A moment demonstrating ‘his’ quality and cementing ‘his’ place as a valued member of FC Barcelona. Without this tackle the challenge of ‘establishing himself at Barca’ may have proved too much.
However seeking out challenge is something Javier has done throughout his career, it is also something that demonstrates a growth mindset – potentially the key driver behind his success.
Seeking out Challenge
From humble beginnings at River Plate, Buenos Aires via Corinthians in Brazil, Mascherano arrived in England aged 22 years. Already an established international with Argentina, Mascherano had a reputation as a hard tackling defensive midfielder.
A rather murky period at West Ham – beset by contractual problems which was said to have limited his ‘game time’ – was finally resolved with a move to Liverpool on loan, and that move was finalised as a transfer in 2008. Liverpool Manager Rafa Benitez made him the pivot around which Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso operated, but Liverpool FC now under the first wave of American ownership were struggling financially.
Things began to unravel at Liverpool, Alonso moved to Real Madrid and with Benitez departure in 2010, Mascherano felt the club had lost its direction. He jumped at an opportunity to join Barcelona, a move which at that time could have been considered a rash, rather hasty reaction.
As first team regular for both Liverpool and Argentina Mascherano’s reputation was well established when he chose the somewhat surprise move to Barca. At the time Javier would of walked into any midfield in Europe, however Barcelona’s is not just any midfield. It was a midfield with Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets at the peak of their powers playing a style of play that most other clubs and players struggle to emulate.
While Pep Guardiola recognised his unique ability and challenged him to make a difference, Mascherano felt his time at Barcelona would be short, then came that tackle – a clear embodiment of his strengths.
Playing to our strengths is a key idea within positive psychology, too often we fall into the trap of focusing on our weaknesses rather than maximising our strengths – something I have often struggled within in my career. ‘The tackle’ demonstrated Javier’s footballing value to everyone at FC Barcelona, but most importantly it reminded him of his strengths and what he offered.
Mascherano now lines up alongside Gerard Pique as a mobile, athletic and distinctly modern central defender. He considers himself the first line of attack rather than the last line of defence, an ethos that exudes the way that Barca play. Mascherano is 13 titles into a Barcelona career that eclipses the time spent and appearances made at all his previous clubs.
In making the switch to centre back Javier demonstrated an open-minded humility, an attribute that has allowed him to adapt, change and excel.
While most young players grow up wanting to follow in Messi’s footsteps (and a fine role model he is) Mascherano’s time at Barcelona provides an ideal example of how a positive psyche is perhaps the most essential tool at all levels of the game.
A note on the authors: this blog was a collaboration.