Armchair Pundit

Let Mascherano rot

Alex Chick

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Roy Hodgson
has done English football many services.

He has
restored the reputation of the nation's managers, proved that a small club
playing attractive football can achieve staggering feats, and shown the world
that some English people can speak foreign languages.

But it
would be his greatest achievement yet if he banished Javier Mascherano to the
reserves and left him there for the rest of the season.

The
Argentine apparently refused to play for Liverpool at Manchester
City as he tried to force through a
move to Barcelona.

Hodgson is
playing hardball, and hauled Mascherano into training this morning
while
insisting Liverpool will not be bullied into
selling.

The logical
conclusion if Barca fail to stump up the cash and Mascherano's informal strike
continues? He remains a Liverpool player but
is no longer considered for first-team action since he has shown such a clear
lack of commitment.

But of
course, that will never happen. Liverpool are
not overburdened with cash, and the collapse of Kenny Huang's takeover leaves
them in a state of debt-addled limbo.

Even if it
is far below the midfielder's true market worth, they can scarcely afford to
turn down the £10m Barcelona
are offering, not least because they would be left shelling out another £3m a
year in wages.

This is
especially true since Mascherano is no longer willing take the field for the club
(although that presumably relieves Liverpool
of the requirement to pay him).

Everybody knows
he will leave the club this month. Liverpool need
money and have no interest in keeping a highly-paid malcontent at Anfield.

But this is
not even an issue of workers' rights, of Mascherano wanting the pay packet he
feels his play deserves.

He does not
want more money - he turned down Liverpool's
offer of an improved deal earlier this year.

What he is doing
is deciding what team he gets to play for. Well, sorry Javier, you only get to
do that when your contract runs out in 2012.

Two more
seasons at Anfield, then you get to go wherever you want - as long as they'll
have you - and your new team won't even have to pay for you. That's how
contracts work.

Players get
the best of both world. they sign long-term deals that guarantee security, and
ensure they get paid even if they 'do a Winston Bogarde' and decide simply to
go through the motions.

And at the
same time, they are under no obligation whatsoever to see out the contracts
they pen.

It is the
biggest fallacy in journalism when people write that a player has signed a new
five-year contract 'keeping him at the club until 2015' - clearly that is not
the case.

I have no
problem at all with footballers making huge sums of money - there's a lot of
cash in football, so why shouldn't some of the money go to the people playing
it? - but for the sake of the game contracts really ought to mean something.

I know the
contract system puts sport out of kilter with 'real life', where people generally
work on indefinite contracts can move from job to job with ease.

But since when
was real life meant to impinge on sport? The very essence of games is that they
provide escapism, something trivial that allows us to forget reality.

I know you
can't keep business out of football altogether, but a completely free market can
only harm a game that relies on the weak being able to live with the strong,
not get crushed underfoot.

Competitive
balance is what makes sport great, and if the top teams can just choose whoever
they want to play for them - and not even pay a fair price for their services -
then this balance is destroyed utterly.

The number
of teams that can hold their own in the transfer market has diminished
dramatically - and when even Liverpool are
getting asset-stripped you know there is a big problem.

So Hodgson
should let Mascherano rot, let his transfer value plummet and make him damaged
goods.

It might
not help Liverpool's short-term ambitions, but
if makes players, clubs and agents think twice before holding a club to ransom,
he will have done football yet another massive favour.

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