Javier Mascherano is edging closer to the exit doors at Barcelona after Manuel Pellegrini confirmed that 'the plan' is for him to join Chinese Super League side Hebei Fortune this month.
The Argentine has fallen out of favour under Ernesto Valverde this campaign, with Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti the manager's preferred centre-back pairing while Thomas Vermaelen has also moved ahead of him in the pecking order in recent weeks.
Mascherano confirmed that it was time to leave Barcelona and find a new challenge and the Chinese Super League side are the favourites to land the Argentine's signature. Pellegrini – the Hebei Fortune manager - is hoping to conclude a deal for the veteran defender at the earliest, but admitted that nothing is finalised yet.
"The plan is that he comes," Pellegrini said when asked about Mascherano's move to Fortune, as quoted by Spanish publication Marca.
"We have to see his situation at Barcelona, but he is a player that I am very interested in. I was the one who gave him his debut with River Plate.
"Mascherano is a leader and I think he would be very good for my team in the Chinese Super League," the former Manchester City manager added.
The Catalan giants are likely to allow the defender to make the move to the Far East, after securing a replacement earlier this month. Barcelona confirmed the arrival of Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina from Palmeiras, who after completing his medical and getting international clearance, is available to make his debut.
Mascherano, meanwhile, is not the only player heading towards the exit doors at the Camp Nou, with Spanish daily Sport reporting that Barcelona and Inter Milan have finally reached an agreement for the transfer of Rafinha Alacantra to the San Siro during the ongoing winter transfer window.
The report claims that the Brazilian midfielder will join the Serie A outfit on loan until the end of the season and if Inter qualify for the Champions League, they will have an obligation to make the deal permanent for a fee of around €35m (£30m). The fee is expected to rise by €3m if he meets certain other criteria in his loan contract.
The two clubs have been in advanced talks over the last week, but were unable to come to an understanding on the fee. The loan deal was agreeable to both clubs, but Inter were unable to accept an obligatory buyout at the end of the season.
The Italian outfit are currently in third place on the Serie A table and fighting to qualify for Europe's elite club competition next season. They have also been linked with a move for Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu, who has also struggled for game time under Valverde this season.
Mascherano and Rafinha will become Barcelona's third and fourth transfers of the January transfer window following the arrivals of Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Mina and the departure of Arda Turan to Istanbul Basaksehir.