Javier Mascherano will leave Barcelona in January and has been offered a lucrative deal by Chinese Super League (CSL) outfit Hebei China Fortune that will see him earn more in his first season than the La Liga giants are set to receive for his services, according to reports.
Mascherano, who is under contract at the Nou Camp until 2019 following an extension penned last October in the aftermath of strong links with Juventus, was initially expected to consider his future in the summer ahead of the likely arrival of Colombian defender Yerry Mina from Palmeiras, but reports in Spain later claimed that he had asked to depart next month.
The veteran Argentine, third-choice centre-back under Ernesto Valverde behind Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, was immediately linked with a move to East Asia, with an "unnamed Chinese club" said to be ready to table a contract offer worth €5m (£4.4m, $5.9m).
"My stage here is ending. It makes sense that after such a long time there's not much more I can do in this club. I'm not saying it with a heavy heart. I've had the best years of my career in this club. I'll never forget it."
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu was still hopeful that Mascherano would stay, while midfield stalwart Andres Iniesta recently declared that Barcelona were not yet resigned to losing a player who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since early November but could return against Deportivo La Coruna this weekend. Josep Vives suggested he would only be permitted to depart if a better replacement can be sourced.
Catalan publication Sport now report there is "no going back" and that the 33-year-old has been given the necessary assurances by Bartomeu and general manager Pep Segura that he will be allowed to join Hebei China Fortune, with a resolution expected in the coming days.
Sport and Mundo Deportivo both suggest that Mascherano, who is hoping to travel with Argentina to the 2018 World Cup, will sign a deal worth €7m-per-year in China, €1.5m more than he makes currently, with Barcelona expected to receive a fee of approximately €6m. His current release clause stands at €100m.
Hebei China Fortune are coached by former Real Madrid and Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini and finished fourth in the CSL in 2017. Mascherano's friend and compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi joined the club last year, while the rest of their foreign contingent is made up of Gervinho, Stephane Mbia, Aloisio and South Korean Kim Ju-Young.
Paulo Sousa's Tianjin Quanjian - in addition to first employers River Plate - were also mentioned in connection with the former West Ham United enforcer, only for a spokesperson to insist last week that he was "too old to fit in at our current plan".
Mascherano's imminent exit is expected to result in Barcelona bringing forward the arrival of Mina, although they will have to negotiate given that their €9m option only becomes active in the summer. Umtiti's own hamstring issue means that Valverde is currently having to rely upon the injury-plagued Thomas Vermaelen as a regular partner for Pique in central defence.