Football: Javier Mascherano leaves Barcelona after eight years, signs for China's Hebei

Barcelona confirmed that defender Javier Mascherano will leave the club this month, with Spanish media reporting that the Argentinian is heading to Hebei China Fortune.
Barcelona confirmed that defender Javier Mascherano will leave the club this month, with Spanish media reporting that the Argentinian is heading to Hebei China Fortune. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BARCELONA (AFP) - Argentinian international defender Javier Mascherano was unveiled as the Chinese Super League's most high-profile signing in a year on Wednesday as he joined Hebei China Fortune from Barcelona.

The highly decorated 33-year-old is the biggest name to head to China since his fellow Argentine Carlos Tevez 12 months ago. After a series of record transfers, Chinese authorities moved to crack down on sky-rocketing deals last year.

Mascherano will take the number 14 shirt - the same he wore at Barcelona and for his country - and team up with another Argentina international, Ezequiel Lavezzi, at Hebei, who are based in the northern city of Qinhuangdao and are coached by former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.

"After reaching agreement with Barcelona FC and the player himself, the distinguished Argentine captain Mascherano has, starting today, officially joined Hebei China Fortune Football Club," the Chinese side said, without disclosing the transfer fee.

Barcelona announced on Tuesday that Mascherano, who can also play as a defensive midfielder, was leaving the club after seven-and-a-half successful seasons, without stating his destination.

The Catalan giants said Mascherano would be given an official farewell on Wednesday and say goodbye to fans at Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final, second leg against Espanyol.

Last month, Sport, a Catalan daily, said that Hebei had reached a deal to sign him from Barca for 10 million euros (S$16.2 million), conditional on the Spanish club plugging the gap, which they did by signing Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina.

Chinese media however put the transfer fee at 5.5 million euros, saying that is just under the threshold that would trigger a 100 percent tax under rules imposed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) on incoming foreign transfers last May.

The surcharge was a way of reining in Chinese clubs who in recent transfer windows shelled out huge amounts on international stars, prime among them Tevez, who moved back to Boca Juniors earlier this month after a miserable year at Shanghai Shenhua.

Shanghai SIPG have also spent big, buying up the likes of Brazilians Hulk and Oscar, the attacking midfielder signed last year for an Asian-record 60 million euros from Chelsea.

The CFA brought in the levy partly to encourage CSL teams to cultivate local players instead.

Tevez, a team-mate of Mascherano's at West Ham United more than a decade ago, became a reviled figure in China and recently said that his stint in Shanghai - where he earned a reported 730,000 euros a week - was "a holiday".

Fans of Hebei, who finished fourth under Pellegrini when the CSL ended in November, will be hoping Mascherano can enjoy an altogether more successful spell in China.

He has the pedigree and arrived at Barcelona from Liverpool in August 2010, winning four La Liga titles, four Copas del Rey, two Champions Leagues and two Club World Cups.

He scored one goal from 334 appearances, when his team-mates pushed him to take a penalty during a 7-1 rout of Osasuna in April 2017.

Only two non-Spaniards, Lionel Messi and Dani Alves, have played more games for Barcelona.