Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Charlie Big Potatoes - The Tevez Story

The fuse on the powder keg relationship between Manchester City and Carlos Tevez was lit and went up with a furious bang in Munich this week as the cash rich Citizens slumped to a 2-0 defeat against a rampant Bayern side in their Champions League group match. The football itself ended up taking a back seat as a more dramatic story was taking place on the touchline. For those that don't know, in the 55th minute of the match at the Allianz Arena, Roberto Mancini, desperately trying to claw his side back into the game, decided to withdraw the ineffective Edin Dzeko and replace him with one Mr Tevez. Astonishingly, the temperamental Argentinean forward apparently refused to go on and kept his posterior planted on the bench.

Very comfortable seats in that Allianz dugout, I'm told...

You don't need me to tell you that this was one of the most outrageous things a player could do. For all the other many misdemeanors footballers are (rightly) criticised for, refusal to actually play and do the job you are paid to do is up there with the worst. An act of disrespect aimed at the club, the fans, management and without exaggeration, is an affront to the game itself.

It's not unreasonable to suggest that Tevez behaved like a first class, certified Grade-A twat with this act of childishness. Whatever your feelings, you are obliged to be professional – a word seemingly missing from Charlie T's limited vocabulary.

Understandably, a seething Mancini felt that this act of insubordination should not go unpunished and soon declared that Tevez' career at Eastlands was finito with some sort of transfer, almost certainly abroad, expected to take place sooner rather than later....

Tevez’ expected departure from these here shores draws a close to a highly controversial chapter in English Premier League football. His distinctive facial scar from a burn suffered in his childhood could well be symbolic representation for the impact he has left on the game. From the moment he touched down in London back in 2006 to his imminent exit shortly, the tenacious little Argentine has never been far from the headlines, proving to be one of the most curious characters to kick a ball on this wee island of ours.

Tevez was first brought to my attention when I was as a layabout student back in 2004. Rather then taking advantage of my fine academic institution by doing something worthwhile such as joining sports clubs or meeting girls, I wasted many an hour playing Championship Manager 03/04 with my flatmate Matt. Said flatmate had previously done a gap year travelling South America where the only useful thing he came back with was the knowledge that Boca Juniors had a highly rated youngster on their books who was set to become most exciting Argentine striker for many a year.

Matt used this knowledge to sign the ‘hot prospect’ for his Roma side and caused constant frustration for me and my Internazionale team as he and I battled for the Serie A title year after fictional year.

“F****** Carlos Tevez” was a phrase I uttered on almost a daily basis during my first year.

Naturally, like most highly rated players on Champo, I expected never to hear of him again. I like to call it Cherno Samba syndrome. However, Tevez again came into my consciousness a year later when he made his initial move (in real life now obviously) to Corinthians from Boca following an explosive start to a career that included a Copa Libertadores win and two Argentinean Player of the Year awards. The transfer probably wouldn’t have even made a ripple in Europe had it not been for the unique circumstances in which it was concluded.

Fresh off the takeover at Chelsea two years prior, football was entering a new era; that of multi-billionaire ownerships. Of course, rich owners were around before 2003 but the kind of vast sums Abramovich et al have been throwing around in recent years were previously inconceivable. What does this have to do with Tevez? Well, the supposed £13m forked out by Cornithians smashed the record of any transfer fee in South America up until that point. The Brazilians had been recently bought by the highly mysterious Media Sports Investments (MSI) headed by the Iranian born businessman Kia Joorabchian who could easily be a James Bond baddie in the right light. MSI bankrolled the transfer and, as it emerged later, ‘owned the economic rights’ to Tevez as well. This was clearly not a typical player-agent relationship. Basically, despite being under contract to the club, the player was actually the property of a ‘third party’ – a phrase that would be become so prominent and repeated in English football a couple of years later that I was often tempted to drive a rusty screwdriver into my eardrum to avoid having to hear it again.

Now, I am not going to pretend I pay close enough attention to transfer market in South America to have been particularly concerned by the move itself. However, my interest was piqued by the fact that this whole convoluted situation was covered in an article in The Times where the implication was that third party ownership may well be the future of football transfers.

However, this apparent revolutionary idea not so much hit a buffer, but rather slammed head first into a brick wall when it crossed the Atlantic and hit these shores.

As I have suggested time and time again, things tend to go a little bit insane on transfer deadline day. Desperate attempts to do business before the window shuts often leads to the most unexpected of deals taking place. In August 2006, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had the BBC deadline day live updates on my browser while frantically bashing away at the F5 key curious to know who was going where.

Every year, some cad sends in rumour about having spotted some high profile international at some obscure location. When it was suggested that Tevez, along with the equally highly rated Javier Mascherano were seen in London, everybody scoffed. Even if this were true, you would automatically assume they would be at the Kings Road, Finsbury Park or even Tottenham High Road. I doubt there was a single football supporter who would have expected or believed believe that two players that had participated in the World Cup and reached the quarter finals just two months prior would be strutting around the East End about to sign for West Ham United!

But alas, this is exactly what happened. Amidst talk of an MSI takeover of the club, Joorabchian had engineered a move for two world renowned superstars to Upton Park. The world had officially gone mad. We all stood open mouthed as then-manager Alan Pardew – smugness personified – appeared on TV looking very much like the cat that got the cream – if the cream in question was being accompanied by Champagne and lobster and being served by Jessica Alba wearing nothing but a smile.

With two new stars and an impending takeover, what could possibly go wrong? Well, let’s not forget this is West Ham we are talking about. Pardew somehow couldn’t fit the two new acquisitions into his side and the Hammers found themselves, typically, flirting with relegation. The MSI takeover fell through and the club were instead bought by an Icelandic consortium that turned out to be even more of a disaster than the country’s volcanoes and ash clouds of a year or so back. I’m not sure what else they expected from a group apparently run by Humpty Dumpty’s clumsier twin brother.

Tevez and Mascherano struggled to settle with the latter hot-footing it to Anfield within a couple of months. Pardew blamed the team’s poor form on the two suggesting that their initial signing was ‘disruptive’. I’m less inclined to take Pards seriously given that he often reckoned a generally hapless Bobby Zamora, a geriatric Teddy Sheringham and something called Marlon Harewood were all better options up front than the three-time South American player of the year.

Pardew was ultimately shown the door and replaced by Alan Curbishley in a move one can only describe as the equivalent of taking an old Skoda with a blown-out engine and replacing it with an old Skoda with a blown-out engine.

There were just 10 games left of the season when Tottenham travelled to the Boylen in March 2007. A thrilling and dramatic game ended 4-3 to the away side handing West Ham a 5th consecutive league defeat. The result aside, the game however featured a pivotal moment that may well have been the catalyst for the club’s survival. Carlos Tevez opened his West Ham account with a brilliant free kick and celebrated by whipping off his shirt and diving head first into ecstatic Irons fans. There’s nothing new about this sort of celebration but on this particular occasion it sparked what was to be the start of a beautiful, if short lived, relationship. The ecstasy and euphoria in the celebration showed that this was a player that truly gave a shit about the club he was playing for. The many fans that questioned him up until this point had no doubts about his commitment to the cause. The battle was lost on the day but the war was far from over. West Ham won 7 of the remaining 9 games with an instrumental Tevez scoring 6 times including the only goal in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford – interestingly, not to be his last goal on this ground – on the final day that kept his side in the top flight.

The Hammers have always been a club that have prided themselves on their “Englishness”. If you’ve ever met one of their fans you’ll know full well that it was West Ham who actually won the 1966 World Cup. Now, I’m not trying to imply they are all card carrying skinheads in East London but it was quite strange and also warming to see them embrace a foreigner – an Argentinean no less – as one of their own. Such was his impact in those months, Tevez was voted Hammer of the Year and is almost spoken of on equal terms as the club’s other great overseas hero, one Paulo Di Canio.

Unfortunately, this apparent fairytale didn’t result in anyone living happily ever after. While third party ownership is an accepted practice elsewhere, here in good ol’ Blighty we forbid such things. Listening to some people, you would think that illegal immigration is preferable.

After they were found to have hidden the details of Tevez’ (and Mascherano’s) ownership from the authorities, West Ham received a record fine but survived a points deduction and even more significantly, were allowed to keep fielding Tevez for those crucial end of season matches that he had such a major influence on.

Given that Tevez was technically ‘illegible’ you can imagine the team(s) that went down might feel somewhat aggrieved. Cue threats of legal action and a messy, messy two year legal battle by relegated Sheffield United which finally resulted in an out of court settlement that has been rumoured to have cost The Hammers nearly as much as dropping down a division would have.

Furthermore, Tevez’ rich vein of form during the run-in merely proved what many believed from the moment he arrived in Newham; That he was quite simply far too good for a team at the wrong end of the table. A mooted move to Manchester United encountered all kinds of complications due to the fact he was still ‘owned’ by MSI while West Ham owned his registration. Knowing they essentially wouldn’t receive a transfer fee, it was the East London club’s turn to threaten a trip to court. After much too-ing and fro-ing, an agreement was reached to compensate West Ham and Tevez would be ‘loaned’ to the Reds by Joorabchian for two years with the option of a permanent deal afterwards. After two seasons, 34 goals, two league titles, a Champions League trophy and a winning goal in front of the Kop at Anfield (one way to endear yourself to United fans forever) later, yet more contract controversy was to follow.

United had delayed talks and as the 2008/9 season was drawing to a close, there was still no offer on the table. At the start of May, United took on crosstown rivals City at Old Trafford where Tevez hammered in a fantastic long range strike to give the Reds a 2-0 lead they would hold on to until the final whistle. The fans inside Old Trafford celebrated the goal by demanding the Argentine be offered a new contract. Fully aware of this, Tevez sprinted to the bench with his hands cupping his ears in a gesture that seemed to be instructing Fergie and the United board to “listen to the people!”. Whether the United hierarchy saw this as an act of insolence or not will never be known but as it turned out, they weren’t prepared to listen. SurAlex famously claimed that the striker wasn’t worth the reported £25m transfer fee it would have cost to purchase him for MSI.

Of course, as well know and many of my ex-girlfriends will testify, the natural reaction to rejection is revenge and Tevez got his by joining a side that did think he was worth the money - not even needing to move house to do so. In the summer of 2009, Carlos Tevez did the unthinkable and left Manchester United to become a Manchester City player. More than just talking advantage of the situation, the signing was a chance for City to truly flex their financial muscle in the faces of their rivals in an “anything we want, we can have” move. The infamous ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster was like a visual metaphor of a burglar shitting on the carpet after robbing a house.

One-upsmanship aside, Tevez’ first two years at Eastlands – on the pitch at least – were a revelation and left football fans up and down the country with very little to debate with regards to not only his ability, but his determination each and every time he stepped out onto the pitch. A stark contrast to his actions this week. One of his finest performances in City colours came at Stamford Bridge in February 2010. Amidst a massive furore about players shagging former teammate’s girlfriends and such, Tevez rose above the nonsense to score twice – continuing to expose the John Terry myth in the process – and inspire his side to an emphatic 4-2 victory.

This wasn’t the first high profile game Tevez took centre stage, just a month earlier in the Carling Cup semi final first leg, the two Manchester clubs were drawn against one another and naturally all eyes were on the former United man. He didn’t disappoint as he bagged a brace in a 2-1 win and repeated his cup-eared celebration in front of Reds fans who had gone from cheering his name just a few months earlier to jeering his every touch. The Argentine claimed afterwards that the celebration was aimed solely at ‘sock-sucker’ Gary Neville who he felt needlessly disrespected him before the match. To be honest, anyone who has beef with Gary Neville gets my approval.

United did go on to win the return leg 3-1 to progress to the final but alas, it was Tevez once more who scored City’s goal on the night. I’m not sure of the stats but I can’t imagine there are many other players who have scored at Old Trafford for 3 different teams. An incredible achievement however you look at it.

And it wasn’t all animosity aimed at former clubs, though. When facing West Ham, Tevez has made a very blatant point of saluting their fans as well as refusing to celebrate after scoring for both United and City.

But as we all know, disharmony and Charlie T go hand in hand like the Greek goverment and a gross financial mismanagement. In fairness, the star has had to tend to family issues. In early 2010, he was granted compassionate leave to fly back to Argentina following the premature birth of his second daughter, later that year, it was rumoured that he and his partner had split and she had taken the children back to South America permanently. City allegedly agreed to allow him to fly back to see his family but reneged on this deal causing Carlitos to start talking about leaving City and retiring from football altogether.

Now, I don't have children (thankfully!) and won't try to claim to understand parenthood but for me, if a father or mother is forcibly denied from seeing their child, particularly ones so young, then you can totally understand why they would be unhappy. How many parents would be pleased to accept any amount of money if it meant they had to live on the other side of the world from their children? Not many I imagine.

It was obvious that Tevez' wasn't right in the head and there was even a public spat with manager Roberto Mancini after his substitution against Bolton last December. But despite all the constant whining and complaining, he never shirked his responsibilities. On the pitch he remained as committed as ever. Ending the season on 23 goals and finishing joint Premier League top scorer, Tevez captained City to their most successful season in recent memory as they qualified for the Champions League and won the FA Cup.

Yet glory and money didn’t seem to satisfy him. Tevez criticised Manchester on Argentinean TV, claiming he would never return before releasing a statement declaring once more that he wanted to leave. Despite his influence, City were prepared to show him that, like any footballer, he was replaceable. Before a protracted summer move back to Corinthians collapsed, Tevez' fellow countryman Sergio Aguero was brought in as a potential replacement. The new signing's brilliant form had many of the City faithful asking 'Carlos who?' with very few prepared to shed a tear if their top scorer of recent years was to depart. After the his shameful behaviour in Munich, these same fans have actively started calling for his departure.

Mancini has drawn the battle lines by declaring Tevez persona non grata at Eastlands. The Argentine has half-heartedly tried to defend himself citing a 'misunderstanding' to very little sympathy and many praising Mancini for his hardline approach with an apparent troublemaker. The incumbent City manager has often had it hard since he arrived on these shores. Often undermined by all and sundry for for tactics last season, as well as having to deal with constant speculation about his job, the Italian was effectively swimming against the tide by still managed to come up smelling of roses. However, it would be remiss not to ask the question of the manager given his relationships with other players in the City squad.

Lost in the Tevez kerfuffle was the fact that the substituted player Dzeko also had some public angry words with his manager. This comes off the back of Super Mario Balotelli doing the same in a pre-season friendly over the summer.

Does Mancini have a problem wish discipline? Much of the evidence would suggest so. The argument that he has to contend with big egos is a valid one but he must stamp his authority or risk more confrontations. Critics and naysayers of City's big spending have been waiting for this moment just so they could say 'I told you so' and it is up to a forceful manager to prevent situations like this from happening - especially in public. With Manicini finally taking some strong action, some say the this latest Tevez scandal is the straw to break the camel's back but if we are to use any animal based idiom, the 'punishment' probably more a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

So what do we make of Tevez? Mercenary, mug or misunderstood? In five short years, for better or for worse, he has made more headlines than most players in the league. Although at times he seems to be no more than a puppet, Carlitos’ continued association with Kia Joorabchian and the acrimony that has followed whenever he has left a club will always have people view him as a disloyal money grabber. His off-field attitude is hardly endearing either. Given the fact he is on fantastic money, earning success and playing for a team undoubtedly on the up, people are entitled to ask why he continues to complain about everything under the sun. He is in a highly privileged position – something he ought to appreciate given the plight of many in his homeland.

But then, even if you don’t sympathise, you must surely understand that his complicated family situation will have an impact on his psyche and general hapiness. Unfortunately for City this has manifested itself in the worst way. His undoubted talismanic quality makes you sit up and take notice no matter who you support and he is in a distinct minority of current players that most teams in Europe would welcome with open arms. That is, if he didn’t come with more baggage than Stansted airport.

There are very few players one can say they genuinely enjoy watching. Tevez is not only a proven Premier League goalscorer – a feat in itself – but manages to combine his South American flair and style with just the right amount of grit and determination that we love oh so much in this country. When you seeing him charging around the pitch like a rabid pitbull from kick off right to the final whistle, you can't help but be impressed by his work rate, something that previously hadn't dropped even during his periods of melancholy.

With his refusal to come as a sub as requested against Bayern, Tevez lost any sympathy that may have remained both from his own fans and the 'neutrals' who just loved him - football wise - for the sheer hell of it. If and when he does leave, City, English football, and fans will be losing a great player but a very unlikable man. Sadly, this outcome will probably be the best for all concerned.

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1 comment:

Captain said...

I believe it to have been a calculated move. He wants to go back to South America, he realises that Corinthians can't afford him so get yourself sacked & go for free?! Contract termination = happy days for Charlie & Corinthians.. bad times for football though. If you ask me, the man (or most likely his agent/owner) has discovered a loophole here.