Disgusted Chinese football fans branded Carlos Tevez “Very Homesick Boy” but they have an altogether fonder nickname for his fellow Argentine Javier Mascherano, “Pony Brother”.
The 33-year-old Mascherano last week left Barcelona for Hebei China Fortune in the Chinese Super League, weeks after the forward Tevez returned to Boca Juniors following a miserable year at Shanghai Shenhua.
Tevez’s unflattering nickname was a play on how his surname is pronounced in Chinese and a nod to his problems settling for long periods anywhere in his career.
But defender Mascherano, who played with Tevez at Corinthians and West Ham United early in their careers, makes the move to the CSL with a far better reputation.
That is reflected in his “Pony Brother” moniker — the “Ma” in Mascherano sounds similar to the word in Chinese for pony.
Hebei, in China’s north, referenced Mascherano’s nickname in announcing his signature on Wednesday, saying in a club statement: “He is famed for his iron-blood style and his forever tireless running.
“He is loved by his teammates and fans and has a loving nickname as ‘Pony Brother’.”
Mascherano is by no means the only foreign sports star to earn an animal-inspired nickname.
The popular Roger Federer, who won in his 20th Grand Slam at the Australian Open on Sunday, is better known in China simply as “Cow”, largely because of his laid-back demeanour, which some have likened to the animal.
Mascherano’s fellow “Pony Brothers” include Ma Huateng, chief executive of internet giant Tencent and known in English as Pony Ma, and Mark Gor, a character played by Hong Kong movie star Chow Yun-fat in the classic gangster movie “A Better Tomorrow”.
Chinese will often come up with a catchy nickname for a foreigner because it can be easier than trying to transliterate their real name.