Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

Barclays English Premier League
Mascherano all set for Liverpool

Liverpool have agreed to sign Javier Mascherano from West Ham United until the end of the season with a view to a longer-term deal, though there still appears to be a major obstacle to overcome if the move is to be completed. FIFA said on Thursday it would refuse to sanction the transfer.

Mascherano arrived at Upton Park from Corinthians on transfer deadline day in August having already represented the Brazilian club in competitive action since the World Cup finals. Article Five, Paragraph Three of FIFA's regulations stipulates that, while players can be registered for a maximum of three clubs from July 1 until June 30 the following year, they are eligible to play for only two in that time.

The West Ham manager, Alan Curbishley, who has agreed a fee of 5 million pounds with Fulham for Luis Boa Morte, is already planning for life without Mascherano despite FIFA indicating that the rules would technically prevent the Argentina midfielder from completing a loan move to Anfield. Indeed, it is understood to have outlined the situation to the West Ham owner, Eggert Magnusson, when asked at the end of November.

"Our understanding, as of today, is the rule is binding," said a FIFA spokesman. "That means that, if a player has already played and registered and been eligible for two clubs from the period of July 1 to June 30, he is not any longer eligible for another club until the next period begins (on July 1). There is no provision that allows for any kind of waiving of this rule."

Yet Mascherano's representatives, Media Sports Investments, whose founder Kia Joorabchian brokered his move alongside that of Carlos Tevez from Brazil to east London with the company retaining the players' image rights, are convinced a deal can still be struck even if they must challenge FIFA to force completion. The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, is understood to share that confidence, with the player having agreed personal terms and the transfer discussed at length at a board meeting yesterday. The deal is expected to be a loan with an option to purchase at the end of the season.

Benitez will also add the Blackburn Rovers defender Lucas Neill to his ranks this month, with Stephen Warnock possibly moving in the other direction. While both Neill and Mascherano have played in the UEFA Cup this season, Liverpool will most likely submit the Australian as their one additional eligible player for their Champions League campaign under new UEFA rules, leaving the Argentinian as cover for Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso in domestic competition. The 22-year-old has made only seven appearances for West Ham and none since Curbishley took over.