Carlos Tévez’s Itchy Feet: Déjà Vu For El Apache?

by Ciaran Kelly

For the fifth time in seven seasons, Carlos Tévez is planning to controversially abandon a club – just as it looked like he had finally found his home.

It happened to his beloved Boca in 2004 (left for Corinthians seeking tranquility); to Corinthians in 2006 (went on strike over a claim of xenophobic treatment); to West Ham in 2007 (had a three-year contract and incredible rapport with the club, but the Hammers fans did not begrudge him a move to Manchester United); when he left Manchester United in 2009 (an offer was made by United but Tévez plucked for a much higher salary with bitter rivals Manchester City); and to Manchester City in 2011 (constant complaints over Manchester’s culture and being away from his family).

So, while Tévez certainly cannot be accused of wanting to leave City for a higher salary, as he is one of the best paid players in the world on a reported £230,000 a week, or because the City captain’s footballing ability is not appreciated by the fans, the Argentine has this time cited homesickness. While there is no doubt that missing out on his two children growing up has been understandably difficult for the Argentine, for all of his brilliance and cult status with the fans of every club he has been at, Tévez is one of the great paradoxes in world football: showing disloyalty, dishonesty and mercenary-like tendencies off-the-pitch in contrast to his doggedness, determination and dedication on the field. However, even before his 4 July declaration that he wants to leave City, the questionable decisions and unprofessional attitude he has shown have been obvious throughout his career – thanks in no small part to his adviser, Kia Joorabchian.

To fully understand how far Tévez has come in his footballing career, it is important to look back on his childhood. The Argentine was born into incredible poverty and depravity in the neighbourhood of Ejército de Los Andes, also known as Fuerte Apache, in Ciudadela, Buenos Aires on 5 February, 1984. Dictator Juan Carlos Onganía eradicated the vast illegal slums across Argentina from 1966 and in preparation for the 1978 World Cup, this policy continued under Jorge Rafael Videla from 1976. With the Estadio Monumental and La Bombonera hosting 12 of the 38 matches, and with the other five host stadiums being hundreds of kilometres apart, hundreds of thousands of tourists flocked to the capital. It led to thousands of Porteños being moved 26.4 km west from the Villa 31 slum in the urban Retrio, in Buenos Aires, to live in the vast tower blocks in eastern Ciudadela. Naturally, huge overcrowding existed, and still exists, and in the 2001 census, it was revealed that 17,777 people were living in 4,657 residencies in Ciudadela.

However, overcrowding and poverty were not the only problems Tévez had to deal with. Due it its high crime rate, Fuerte Apache was, and still is, considered one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Argentina. Tévez’s appearance and personality were firmly shaped in living in such circumstances. Having already had a freak accident at the age of 10 months, when Tévez knocked over a kettle of boiling water that left him with third-degree burns on his right ear, neck and chest and left him in intensive care for two months, Tévez had some of his teeth punched out and knocked out of place in a street fight when he was mugged as a pre-teen. However, rather than his drug-dominated area corrupting and deterring his values, Tévez saw it as a blessing, saying in 2009:

I could have started doing drugs and ended up at the bottom, but instead I made it to the place where I am now. In fact, my childhood was nice. I learned then all the values that grace me now: respect, humility, sacrifice.

After being spotted on the streets of Fuerte Apache, where Tévez and his friends often played for the prize of a sandwich and a Coke, Tévez was handed a youth contract with his local Buenos Aires club All-Boys in 1992. Having impressed with All-Boys’ youth team from the age of 8, the then 12 year old Tévez was poached by Buenos Aires powerhouse Boca in 1997. In the resulting wrangling, All-Boys were paid $10,000 for the 12 year old’s services. Intriguingly, before leaving All-Boys, Tévez had been known as Carlos Martínez but adopted his mother’s uncommon maiden name when he left for the glamorous Boca. In just four years with Boca’s youth team, Tévez netted an impressive 75 goals, as well as starring in the Fifa U-17 World Championship in 2001 – leading to widespread national attention and hype. Upon being promoted to the first-team in 2001, Tévez was offered cosmetic surgery, which would have ruled him out of action for four months, but refused, proclaiming: “you either take me as I am or you don’t.”

Like all prodigious South American talents, Tévez was handed a debut at a young age. Under legendary manager Carlos Bianchi, it came at 17 years of age in an Argentine Primera División match against Talleres de Córdoba on 21 October, 2001. A further 10 appearances came that season, with Tévez scoring 1 goal. With Bianchi winning an incredible trophy haul of three Primera División titles, two Copa Libertadores’ and one Intercontinental Cup between 1998-2000, he departed after a trophyless season in 2001. Bianchi was replaced by Oscar Tabárez and while Tabárez integrated Tévez into the starting line-up, where the Argentine scored 11 goals in 32 appearances, he failed to start El Apache in his best position as a deep-lying striker. The triumphant return of Bianchi as manager in 2003 led to the 19 year old Tévez leaving his mark on Boca’s history.

After initially opting for new signing Franco Cángele as Boca’s main striker, Bianchi successfully deployed Tévez as the central figure in a front three alongside Guillermo Scheletto and Marcelo Delgado as Boca came into the business end of the 2002/2003 season. After playing the role of impact substitute in Boca’s 02/03 Primera División triumph, Tévez was pivotal to Boca’s Copa Libertadores victory. Having already netted 7 goals in the Primera División that season, El Apache finished as Boca’s top scorer (5 goals) in Boca’s capture of the Copa Libertadores title in 2003. Boca, particularly in the knockout stages, where they won both legs of the quarter-final, semi-final and final, were one of the most dominant sides in Copa Libertadores history: losing just two matches, scoring 29 goals and conceding just 13 goals in 14 games.

With an Intercontinental Cup final coming up against Milan on 14 December, Tévez decided not to take part in the Fifa World Youth Championship and even though he was initially a substitute in the final against Milan, as Bianchi adapted to the match with a 4-4-2 formation because Tévez had just recoverred from a niggling injury, El Apache re-energised a tiring Boca side from the 73rd minute as Boca won the 1-1 final on penalties. It was their second Treble in four years – both coming under Bianchi. A call-up to Argentina’s Olympic team in Greece followed and Tévez was instrumental in La Albiceleste winning gold – finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with 8 goals. He was also called up to Argentina’s 2004 Copa América squad, where he netted two goals as Argentina finished as runners-up to rivals Brazil in Peru.

However, while Tévez had established a great rapport with Boca’s fans, the Argentine public and press began to turn on him after it was revealed that he was dating model Natalia Fassi at the same time as his ex-girlfriend Vanessa was pregnant with his first child. Aside from the fact that 89% of Argentina are devout Roman Catholic, the revelation badly tarnished El Apache’s ‘superhero rise from dire childhood circumstances’ reputation. It led to Tévez having heated exchanges with the press, being dropped from the Argentina national team, travelling with a bullet-proof windscreen on his car and begging the Argentine public to leave him alone. Despite the fact he had mustered just 2 goals in 9 games at the beginning of the 2004/2005 season, and had been reluctantly granted permission to leave by club president Mauricio Macri, Tévez’s decision to leave Boca for Corinthians in December 2005, amid interest from Atlético Madrid and Bayern Munich, still came as a huge shock.

Tévez moved for $22 million (£13.7 million) – a record fee for a player moving between clubs in South America. The key to the deal was Kia Joorabchian. The Iranian-born Londonder was the co-founder, along with Nojan Bedroud, of Media Sports Investments (MSI) in 2004 and a ten-year deal was struck with Corinthians where MSI would invest $35 million into the club in return for 51% of the club’s profits. Joorabchian convinced Tévez that a move to Corinthians would be wise and from this, became his personal adviser. Corinthians had undergone a barren spell, where they had not won the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A for five seasons, and the resulting investment led to the likes of Gustavo Nery, Roger (Galera Flores), Javier Mascherano, Carlos Alberto and Sebastián Domínguez joining between 2004 and 2005. High-profile manager Daniel Passarella also arrived in 2005 to oversee MSI’s revolution.

Tévez was by far the club’s highest earner on a $10 million a year contract ($192,000 a week) and this caused major resentment among a section of Corinthians’ fans and the Corinthians players who arrived before Joorabchian’s investment. A bizarre training ground bust-up between El Apache and squad player Marquinos epitomised the tension but despite this, Tévez said upon his unveiling in January 2005:

I identify with the Corinthians fans. I am humble and come from a poor neighbourhood, just like these fans. I am delighted if they see me as one of them.

Passarella named Tévez as captain for the 2006 season and El Apache netted a brilliant 25 goals in 38 matches for Corinthians as they won the Série A title. Tévez‘s impact was so immediate that he became the first non-Brazilian to win the league’s best player award since Chilean Elías Figueroa in 1976.

2007 proved a different story for Tévez. Having had a reasonable World Cup in Germany, including scoring a goal against Serbia and Montenegro, El Apache returned to uncertainty at Corinthians. A Brazilian-dominated player revolt resulted in the ousting of the Argentine Passarella as head coach and from this, Brazilian Émerson Leão became manager in August 2006. Wherever Tévez has gone, he has refused to immerse himself in his new nation’s language and this resulted in Leão stripping Tévez of the captaincy and publicly satirising Tévez’s failure to understand him. Even though this did not seem to affect Tévez’s form on the pitch, as he began the season with 6 goals in 9 games, other matters were beginning to overshadow his goalscoring exploits for Corinthians.

Tévez was banned for one match after swearing at a referee, made derogatory comments about female officials and after the Corinthians faithful booed the team after going 2-1 down against Fortaleza, Tévez responded with a ‘shhh’ gesture when he equalised to make it 2-2. This resulted in some of his own fans booing him and a section of ultras shaking his car after the match. With Corinthians in the relegation zone of Série A after 9 games, Leão refused to allow Tévez and Mascherano to represent Argentina in a friendly against Brazil at the Emirates on 3 September. The Argentines saw this as xenophobic treatment with Mascherano purposely picking up a suspension before the friendly in order to play, while Tévez refused to play for Corinthians again if Leão did not allow them to leave. Leão refused and Joorabchian, on behalf of MSI, brokered a complicated deal with West Ham United in one of the most surprising and controversial transfers of all-time on 31 August, 2006.

So why did Joorabchian pick West Ham for his prized assets? There is no doubt that Joorabchian offered the Argentines out to a host of clubs across Europe, but particularly in the Premier League where he had established contacts from his base in London. As Tévez’s ‘strike’ at Corinthians came so late in August, it meant that most clubs had little time to make a decision on two players who had been playing over 9474 km away in Brazil. Added to this was the fact that few Premier League clubs had £24 million left in their summer budgets. However, the most obvious deterrent for prospective buyers was the murky transfer deal which would involve buying the players’ registration, while MSI still held their economic rights. Regardless, the Hammers, who had been bankrolled by the Icelandic Landsbanki since 2006, saw an obvious coup and paid £12 million each for the players’ registration.

The season before the arrival of the Argentines saw West Ham finish as runners-up to Liverpool in the FA Cup and finish a respectable 9th in the league. Most of that squad remained and was boosted by the signings of Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, John Paintsil, George McCartney and Carlton Cole before 31 August. However, the signings of Tévez and Mascherano certainly had an adverse effect on the dressing room and the squad’s dynamic. West Ham had started the 2006/2007 campaign reasonably well with four points collected from their first three games but upon the Argentines’ debuts, consistent performers Yossi Benayoun and Marlon Harewood were dropped. Under fierce scrutiny and pressure, Pardew struggled to implement and communicate with Tévez and Mascherano. Having missed out on a rigorous English pre-season, the pair looked unfit and out-of-sorts and upon their arrival, West Ham went on a nine game winless streak – which included an incredible seven games without scoring.

Despite eventually dropping Tévez and Mascherano for a mere two matches, which coincided with West Ham’s mini-revival with wins over Blackburn and Arsenal, the writing was on the wall for Pardew in the match against Sheffield United on 25 November. Having seen Harewood nick a crucial injury-time winner against Arsenal, Pardew refused to start the Englishman upfront with the potent Bobby Zamora. Even though Pardew stuck with Benayoun over Mascherano, he continually persevered with the misfiring Tévez and after taking the Argentine off on the 66th minute against Sheffield United, El Apache stormed out of Upton Park. When Pardew told the Argentine to donate half of a week’s wage to charity and do a training session in a Brazil shirt, Tévez publicly criticised Pardew for not knowing how to manage foreign players. Pardew still did not drop Tévez and within two weeks, after crucial defeats to Wigan and Bolton, Pardew was sacked on 11 December.

The arrival of Alan Curbishley as manager proved a turning point in Tévez’s career in England. While Tévez did not score until 7 March, his endeavour and performances dramatically improved under Curbishley. The Englishman has always been credited for picking players based on form rather than reputation and after not starting Tévez in his first five matches as manager, he restored the Argentine to the starting line-up for the FA Cup 3rd round tie against Brighton on 3 January. It paid massive dividends, with Tévez assisting all 3 goals. Finally, El Apache had shown his promise. Having already allowed Mascherano’s player registration to be loaned to Liverpool for two seasons on 31 January 2007, Curbishley was adamant that he would not play the high-profile signings without reason. However, Tévez was improving game-by-game and a curling free-kick against Tottenham in a 4-3 defeat on 7 March sent Tévez into a goalscoring flurry – which was the key to the Hammers staying up.

Despite West Ham being fined £5.5 million in April for breaking co-ownership rules, Tévez’s form remained unaffected. He netted 7 goals in the final 10 games of the Premier League season, which helped West Ham claim 21 points from a possible 30. Incredibly, the Hammers stayed up after a brilliant victory over Manchester United (Van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney all started) at Old Trafford on the last day of the season. However, Tévez’s incredible form, having scored 7 of West Ham’s 17 goals in the last 10 games of the season, led to newly-relegated Sheffield United taking the Hammers to court in the hope, due to illegal third-party ownership, that they would replace them in the top-flight. While the Blades were not promoted, they were compensated with £20 million by West Ham and the Premier League outlawed third-party ownership. With Tévez still having two years left on his contract at West Ham, a complicated transfer saga ensued where prospective buyers would have to buy West Ham’s player registration, while also buying MSI’s share.

After declaring that he wanted to stay in the Premier League, after rejecting an offer from Internazionale in June, Tévez put off any discussions about his future until he returned from the 2007 Copa América in Venezuela. Appearing mainly as a substitute, after falling out-of-favour with Alfio Basile over two red cards in Argentina’s World Cup qualification campaign, Tévez netted just one goal in the tournament. Upon Tévez’s return, and realising that the Argentine would prefer a move to Manchester United, West Ham agreed to sell their registration to MSI for £2 million and from this, Manchester United agreed a two-year loan deal (similar to Mascherano’s Liverpool loan) where they were dealing directly with MSI and therefore, there was no third-party. The signing was announced on 10 August – leaving Tévez just five days preparation for the first game of the season against Portsmouth.

Despite concerns that Tévez and Rooney were too similar to flourish as a partnership, the 2007/2008 season proved that this ‘theory’ was largely unfounded. Tévez scored his first Manchester United goal against Chelsea on 23 September – helping to back up Sir Alex Ferguson’s belief that “he’ll get me fifteen goals this season, and what’s more, they’ll be important goals.” Tévez’s robust and energetic displays won him fans across the league and when he returned to Upton Park on 29 December, the Hammers fans chanted “there’s only one Carlos Tévez.” He returned the favour with a ‘Hammer cross’ gesture with his arms – confirming his place in the Hammers’ folklore. Tévez scored 19 goals in 49 appearances with United in his first season - including 5 goals in United’s Champions League winning campaign.

As it looked like El Apache had finally found the perfect club, Dimitar Berbatov’s arrival on 31 August, 2008 changed Tévez’s relationship with United dramatically. With Ferguson opting for two strikers upfront, Tévez often found himself in the role of impact substitute. After rumours of Tévez wanting to leave began to surface in November, United fans began chanting “Fergie sign him up!” at every home match. This was particular evident when the Argentine cupped his ear to the fans’ chant after scoring in the Manchester derby on 10 May. After United’s Premier League winning celebrations, when Tévez revealed that he “did not feel wanted or like a member of the family,” Ferguson met Joorabchian’s valuation of £25.5 million and offered the player a five-year contract that would have made Tévez one of United’s top earners. However, even though Tévez rejected the overtures of Liverpool, he opted for an incredible offer from United’s bitter rivals Manchester City on 14 July.

As an undisputed starter at City, Tévez has played the most consistent and influential football of his career. He has netted 52 goals in 81 games in two seasons and last season, he scored 41% of City’s goals in the league – the highest individual contribution to goals scored. However, like at all of his previous clubs, controversy has not been far behind El Apache. He has constantly threatened prematurely retiring from football before his contract at City finishes; cupped his ear towards Manchester United substitute Gary Neville after scoring in City’s 2-1 2010 Carling Cup semi-final first leg win; publicly complained about Roberto Mancini’s double training sessions; fell out with Mancini, after being stripped of the captaincy, resulting in public bust-ups such as when Tévez angrily confronted Mancini after being substituted against Bolton on 4 December; and criticised Manchester for “only having two good restaurants”.

Despite Mancini allowing Tévez extended breaks to spend time with his estranged family in Argentina, El Apache has cited this distance as a reason to end his five-year spell in England. A move to Real Madrid, Internazionale or even a loan move back to Boca have been touted. However, a similar situation occurred in December 2010 when Tévez handed in a transfer request so it would be no surprise, even if Sergio Aguero, Samuel Eto’o or Ezequiel Lavezzi arrive, if City’s £50 million valuation leaves Tévez with little choice but to remain at the Etihad Stadium.