Mascherano urged to join Barcelona

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The Independent Online

Barcelona star Lionel Messi has maintained the pressure in the tug-of-war for Javier Mascherano by reiterating his desire for the Liverpool midfielder to join him at the Nou Camp.

Argentina captain Mascherano is a major target for Barcelona and even though manager Rafael Benitez has slapped a £50m price tag on the player, that does not seem to have deterred the Catalans.

Messi has spoken in the past of his wish to link up with his international team-mate at club level and he repeated that sentiment today.

"Of course I would like him to join, who would not want to play with great players like Javier," Messi told El Mundo Deportivo.

"I hope he can come here."

There has been speculation suggesting Mascherano wants to become one of Liverpool's highest earners and that his wife has not settled on Merseyside.

But the player himself only yesterday spoke in glowing terms about Benitez and the relationship he has with the manager who rescued him from a miserable spell in West Ham's reserves just over two years ago.

Benitez is determined to keep the combative Argentinian but it appears Barcelona are not yet ready to give up their pursuit of the 25-year-old.

The Liverpool boss is facing attacks on all sides from Spanish clubs with Real Madrid stepping up their bid to sign Xabi Alonso.

Rumours of a £30million bid have been circulating as returning Real president Florentino Perez continues to try to spend his way to success in an attempt to catch arch-rivals Barcelona, who won the treble last season.

The prospect of losing both his first-choice central midfielders is totally unpalatable to Benitez, who knows he has to strengthen his side if he is to catch Barclays Premier League champions Manchester United, having run them so close last season.

He has a limited budget to work with and some of that has been taken up with the acquisition of right-back Glen Johnson from Portsmouth.

Benitez has enough money left in the pot for one more transfer but he is also hopeful of selling off a few players to give him more money to play with.

Full-back Alvaro Arbeloa seems likely to go to Real for a fee of around £5million and the player's agent has been in Madrid for negotiations.

Others destined for the exit are goalkeeper Charles Itandje, Andriy Voronin, Sebastian Leto and Andrea Dossena.

Arbeloa, who has one year left on his contract, has welcomed interest from Real.

"I am especially proud of what the club is doing," said the Spain defender, who is in South Africa with the national team for the Confederations Cup.

"It is a big project with the return of Florentino - and obviously if Madrid is fixed on you it makes you proud."

Arbeloa added in Marca: "I would be lying if I said I was sure to start the season with Liverpool.

"I'll be able to think about all this by next Monday."

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