By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta has not given up hope Javier Mascherano will stay at the club amid reports the Argentine is on the verge of moving to the Chinese Super League in January.
Mascherano, 33, said last month his seven-year, trophy laden spell at the Nou Camp was "nearing an end".
Spanish newspaper Sport has reported he is close to joining Chinese side Hebei China Fortune, coached by former Manchester City and Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini.
"We haven't resigned ourselves to him leaving because it's not official," Iniesta told reporters at a publicity event on Wednesday.
"On a personal level I'd like him to stay because he's very important to us as a person and as a player, although everyone has to look out for themselves. But no-one can doubt Mascherano's commitment to Barca after all these years."
The Argentina international has won La Liga four times and the Champions League twice since moving from Liverpool in 2010.
Mascherano's departure would leave Barca with only three experienced centre backs in Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, who is out injured until the end of January, and the injury-prone Thomas Vermaelen, who has only started three games this season.
Barcelona are unbeaten in La Liga and the Champions League and have a five-point lead over second-placed Valencia and an eight-point advantage over Real Madrid in fourth after 15 games.
It is a scenario few envisaged after Real's 5-1 win over their Catalan rivals in the Spanish Super Cup in August. Barca visit Real in the first 'Clasico' of the season on Dec. 23.
"We could slip up at any moment but we celebrate where we are right now because of how the team is playing," said Iniesta.
"There's still a long way to go and after January it will get very tough but I think the team is playing well, looking solid and is starting to grow but the hardest part of the season is still to come."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Ken Ferris)