There is something about Carlos Tevez that resonates with the British footballing public.
He’s bullish, full throttle and explosive. He doesn’t complain that much when he gets kicked. The clichés we associate with his name are the ones of bygone days like ‘covers every blade of grass’ and ‘leaves his skin on the pitch’.
In the age of preening pretty boys with more money than talent, the Argentine forward is unashamedly ugly and indisputably talented.
What’s more, controversy follows him from place to place like his advisor/owner Kia Joorbachian, satisfying our thirst for murky sub plots to the every day storylines of the Barclays Premier League.
Neutrals marvelled as he single-handedly kept West Ham in the top flight and we shared his confusion as to why he couldn’t displace either the languid Dimitar Berbatov or the off colour Wayne Rooney in Manchester United’s starting line up. We felt his pain as he was benched for the Champion’s League final, watching on as the immobile Anderson, who he replaced at half-time, made Andreas Iniesta and Xavi look like ten different players.
Now he is leaving United, as he announced via Joorbachian on June 20th, with Chelsea or Manchester City the most likely destinations. Cash strapped Liverpool were discounted at an early stage, apparently out of respect for their fierce rivalry with the Red Devils. This presumably means that team Tevez view City and Chelsea as no more than amicable competitors. Still, despite the fact that he thinks switching Old Trafford for the Eastlands would be no big deal, we like Tevez.
We’re heartened that he wants to stay in the cut and thrust of the Premiership instead of diving around Spain like his former colleague Ronaldo. He’s our sort of player: committed and entertaining in equal measures. ‘He perhaps didn’t feel part of the Manchester United family’ Joorbachian suggested in his interview with Sky Sports, after the news that Tevez wouldn‘t be signing a permanent contract there. And so we love him even more.
Poor Carlos, who tried harder than Dimitar did, and for less pocket money too. The league’s most expensive orphan needs a new home, and all of us wish that our club would be the one to provide it.
But in our rush to claim Tevez as a symbol of what football used to be, we forget just how much he represents what it has become. At a time when we decry third party involvement in the game, Tevez is more or less completely owned by a third party. Despite his apparent hunger to belong, he hasn’t belonged to any one club since he ‘joined’ West Ham in September 2006. Since then he has been a commodity in the very realest sense.
When Tevez plays well, he increases the brand value of Tevez. When his battling displays in the final games of the Hammers’ season earned him the attentions of some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs, he was, whether he knew it or not, literally playing for himself. And wedged in-between the glorious displays of gut busting skill there have been a few tantrums.
West Ham fans will reluctantly recall him storming off the pitch against Sheffield United, Corinthians fans his refusal to play for them and fans of Manchester United his ill timed announcement that he probably wouldn’t be playing for the club next season, made just over a week before the showdown in Rome with Barcelona.
Diego Maradona said in an interview a few years back that if he was still playing, he would join a team in the mould of Napoli rather than Barcelona. A modest, lowly club he could help drive on to better things, rather than giant, corporate entity.
Don’t expect the same sort of socialist spirit from Tevez. Joorbachian implied that money isn’t so important to his client and you tend to agree, because no-one offering less than the £25.5m fee for his rights and wages of more than £120,000 will even make it to the negotiating table. On top of that, Tevez will want some kind of assurance that he will be the sun around which the other planets rotate, rather than just another rotating planet as he was for Alex Ferguson’s side.
The instinct to romanticize Tevez while tempting, should be resisted, particularly by the fans of those clubs now vying for his signature. Whoever lands him will inherit all the baggage that comes with any modern-day footballer, and more than most do, he’ll need to be loved.