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HOME > National Teams > U-22 2023 > International Friendly Match [11/18] TOP > NEWS > Be strict with yourself - Always have respect Vol.128


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Be strict with yourself - Always have respect Vol.128

23 January 2024

Be strict with yourself - Always have respect Vol.128

“We didn’t lose because of the players’ poor physical condition. We made a lot of mistakes, lost our organisation and became a really weak team.”

I was very surprised to hear these words from the head coach of U-22 Argentina National Team, Javier MASCHERANO.

An international friendly between the U-22 national teams of Japan and Argentina took place at IAI Nihondaira Stadium in Shizuoka on 18 November 2023. The result was a 5-2 victory for Japan, but it was clear that the long travel from the other side of the earth had taken its toll on the visitors, with four of Argentina's five conceded goals coming between the 66th and 88th minutes. However, Mascherano made no excuses after the game, saying the defeat was the result of their own weakness.

Born on 8 June 1984, Javier Alejandro Mascherano mostly played as a defensive midfielder or centre-back throughout his playing career.

Argentina, one of the world's greatest football nations with three FIFA World Cup™ titles, has produced many world-class players. The late Diego MARADONA and Lionel MESSI, now regarded as one of the best players in the world, are by far the most notable, but in an 11-a-side game, Mascherano is a player every coach would want in their team, arguably as much as Maradona or Messi.

Making his professional debut at the age of 18, Mascherano caught the eyes of the big clubs and moved to England at the age of 22. After a spell with Liverpool FC, he joined Spanish side FC Barcelona at the age of 26, where he has been an integral part of the club's successes, including two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Champions Leagues and five La Liga titles.

He was also a mainstay of the Argentina National Team for 16 years, having first been selected at the age of 19. A four-time FIFA World Cup™ participant, he helped Argentina to a runners-up finish at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and back-to-back Olympic gold medals at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. He is the second most capped player in Argentine football history with 147 appearances.

The long list of achievements does not, however, do justice to Mascherano's greatness as a player. What made him indispensable to his coaches was his willingness to give 100 per cent in every game and fight to the end for the team's victory. At 170cm tall, he was a rather small player by modern football standards, but no one could have been more reliable, as he possessed strong leadership qualities and was able to encourage and guide his team with his play.

Hearing his words after the match against Japan in Shizuoka, I understood the reason why he has become such a unique figure in the history of football.

Football is a very simple game, but it is also a sport in which a very complex set of details come together to produce a result. And in the modern game, it is well known that the physical condition of the players plays a crucial role. Even if Mascherano had said that it was the condition of the players that made the difference in the final 25 minutes, no one would have blamed him, because the Argentine players' movements were completely different to those of the previous 65 minutes.

However, Mascherano was adamant that the blame for the defeat lay squarely on the shoulders of the team. Even when I asked if the long travel contributed to his players' fatigue in the second half, he remained sombre, saying that they were defeated because they did not do what they had to do.

In every moment of life, you do not blame others or your environment, you take responsibility for yourself... That must be the essence of Mascherano's character. It is for this reason that he has remained a respected figure in a fiercely competitive world for so long. “Don't spoil yourself, be strict with yourself.” I think that is one of the ways to respect the game of football.

Written by OSUMI Yoshiyuki (Football Journalist)

*This article was originally posted on the Japan Football Association Newsletter, “JFAnews,” December 2023 edition.

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