Why You'll Love Him
Nicknamed The Chief by Argentine legend Leonardo Astrada, Javier Mascherano is one of international football's most feared holding midfielders. His natural-born leadership has been recognized by Coach Diego Maradona, who hand-picked him to captain Argentina back in 2008 when he was just 23 years old. He is also a noted nuisance in midfield and has been a defensive linchpin in Liverpool's squad since his arrival in 2007.
Why You'll Hate Him
His detractors have labeled him a "thug" for his barely-legal tackles and irascible temperament. Mascherano's no-holds-barred play in midfield earned him the worst disciplinary record of any player in the English Premier League in the 2009-10 season with seven yellow cards and two reds. Is also particularly disliked by Manchester United fans for his particularly unhinged performances at Old Trafford.
Clubs: River Plate (2003-05), Corinthians (2005-2006), West Ham United (2006-2007), Liverpool (2007-present)
National Team Debut: 2004 Copa America
Mascherano came up through the ranks at the famed youth system of River Plate. He made his debut at 18 and won the Clausura with the team, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores. After a poor 2004-05 season for River Plate, Mascherano was transferred to Corinthians, one of Sao Paulo's most successful clubs. However, his time there was blighted by injury. After a solid World Cup showing in 2006, Mascherano was again transferred to Premier League side West Ham. But again his club woes continued as West Ham's results spiraled downward after his arrival. Dissatisfied, Mascherano managed to wrangle his way out of a complicated contract where in which his rights were actually owned by a third party and landed in Liverpool in February 2007. His fortune finally turned and he quickly established himself as a starter in the team. His performance in the 2007 UEFA Champions League Final against AC Milan was hailed, despite coming in a losing effort. Liverpool's midfield trio of Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Mascherano thrusted the team to a second place finish in 2008-09. It was arguably the best season Liverpool had managed since winning the league twenty years earlier. After a disappointing 2009-10 season, rumors abound that Mascherano may not let Rafa Benitez walk alone to Inter Milan.
Mascherano is the rare player who made a name for himself on the international stage before establishing himself at club level. His career began with the U-17's before winning a Gold Medal in the Athens Olympics of 2004. He was voted the 2004 Copa America Player of the Tournament by his teammates. He became so well-regarded in Argentina that he was selected for the 2006 World Cup squad. He played every minute of every game, although his team fell short in the Quarterfinals. He continued to impress at both the 2007 Copa America and in the 2008 Olympics where he won a second gold medal, becoming just the second Argentine to do so. In 2008, Maradona took the captaincy off of Argentina National Team stalwart Javier Zanetti and granted it to Mascherano.
What to Expect
Bruising tackles, a defensive barrier in midfield, perhaps a long-range goal, and cards. Mascherano could provide cover to Argentina's lauded playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron. He'll be the monstrous hard man behind a front line of slight, creative, fleet-footed artists. He could also be the critical first line of defense ahead of a questionable Argentina defense.
While Jenna Pel has never been accused of being a monstrous hard man, she provides cover in her own right. Such skills are on display at All White Kit, her blog covering women's soccer. Jenna will be contributing to SB Nation's coverage of World Cup 2010.
For more World Cup coverage, visit the Dirty Tackle blog from our partners at Yahoo!