Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Tevez and Galactico Culture

That Carlos Tevez has become the first high-profile English League footballer to go on strike Nottingham Forest's since Pierre Van Hooijdonk in the late 1990s comes as a bit of a surprise to this bunny, more than anything because he half-expected fellow Manchester City star and all-round soccer diva Mario Balotelli to beat him to it.

However, in some respects this might just be the next move in the game of chess that has been played out between the Argentinian forward and his employers. Twice he has handed in transfer requests, and on both occasions the player appeared to have been welcomed back into the fold - firstly when offered the rather generous olive branch of captaincy, and again when a proposed transfer to Corinthians for 40 million euros fell through in the summer (then again it is highly doubtful as to whether or not the Brazilian club ever had that kind of currency available to them in the first place).

Some are calling for City to use their wealth to punish Tevez, freezing the player out in the reserves, refusing to sell or release him, thereby depriving the 27-year old of what would constitute a large chunk of his footballing prime. Such a strategy might well have some sort of exemplary effect and be good for the game itself, but is bound to be counter-productive when the individual involved remains around the squad and becomes nothing more than a cancerous influence on it. Roberto Mancini has insisted "if I get my way he's out - he's finished with me" and it might be that a clean break, with contract ripped up, would be the best move for all concerned. Tevez can go play in Argentina/Brazil/Italy (depending on which bit of breaking news you read), while City will be rid of someone who was only going to be bad news for them from now on.

The player himself is something of a paradox and a complicated figure to work out. On the one hand, he is demonstrably high maintenence and in need of much in the way of TLC, even by the standards of a modern top-level footballer. Baggage also appears to have followed Tevez since he arrived at West Ham in August 2006. Though he undeniably made the difference between survival and relegation for his team (scoring the winner against Manchester United on the last day proved decisive), the involvement of a third party of investors, Media Sports Investments with agent Kia Joorabchian suggested that his appearances for the Hammers were against the FA's rules on player eligibility. Sheffield United, who were demoted on that fateful final day as they lost to Wigan Athletic, ultimately won a legal claim for compensation before settling for a sum believed to be in excess of £10 million.

A two-year loan stint at United followed, where having scored 34 goals in 97 appearances and been widely perceived as one of their best performers, it became apparent towards the end of the 2008-09 season that a £25 million permanent deal was not necessarily a formality. Old Trafford supporters who had valued the player's contribution, often linking with Wayne Rooney to produce match-winning performances, clearly saw any failure to take up such an option as a grave error and noticeably increased the volume of their acclaim for Tevez during the tail end of his United career. Signing for rivals City was seen by some as an act of revenge, and the club famously put up a 'Welcome to Manchester' sign in his honour - this of course is a reference to the claim of many City fans that they are the 'real Manc' club, as opposed to United who are most popular with Southerners and overseas, In the context of all this, it might perhaps be expected that further controversy and slices of soap opera would follow Tevez and his career.

However, despite all the complications he may bring off the field, a mentally and physically prepared Carlos Tevez is the sort of proven performer a coach or manager would want in his team, not just for his vision and ability to both make and score goals, but for his energy, drive, teamplay and ability to lift the tempo of his side's attacks. Tevez is a man with the flair and penchant for creating something out of nothing, allied to a constant willingness to endeavour in this fashion when the chips are down. 53 goals in 91 appearances for City over two seasons is a record that confirms his value to the team, along with the many more that he has created for team-mates in the same timeframe. In a starting line-up that often played overly-patient, predictable football, he was perhaps the main reason that City were merely workmanlike as opposed to positively dull.

With Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri entering the Eastlands fold over the summer and Edin Dzeko looking leaner and sharper than he did upon his arrival, one might have thought that a team framework built around more positive, high-tempo approach play would suit Tevez and provide the player with an environment in which he could express and enjoy himself. City have indeed looked more threatening in the final third during the opening weeks of the season, with their defence now something of a weak link, exposed as it is by a line-up looking to attack at every opportunity. This might be the sort of football that represents a creative forward's vision of heaven, but it is not without its share of problems.

City's approach towards acquiring new personnel in the last three seasons has had something of a 'fill the trolley' feel to it. While I appreciate that for supporters it can be exciting to see talented and high-profile players joining your club, there are issues that inevitably arise from both bringing them on board and then fitting these individuals into the established shape. Team sports can be difficult for Libertarians to take in (indeed a disproportionate number of us have little time for football, cricket, rugby, whatever), since what follows in them perhaps runs contrary to our philosophy on everyday life. Though great individuals can of course turn an average team into a very good one, the sense of the collective in making a squad of players stronger than the sum of their component parts (ie the essence of team spirit) is everything.

This is one of the many reasons why Manchester United have had so much success under the guidance of Sir Alex, and it is possible that his decision not to part with £25 million for Tevez was based on the knowledge of something he did not see as compatible with the United ethos - the benefit of hindsight enables us to conclude that his final matches at Old Trafford  saw a footballer playing the club's supporters off against its manager. This bunny is by no means a lover of Sir Alex or his team, but refusing to acknowledge their achievements would be somewhat churlish - the presence of several (not necessarily 'star') players who have been at Old Trafford for several years and become part of the club's fabric has certainly contributed heavily towards this success, and its impact cannot be underestimated.

Of course, none of this is possible when too many 'big names' require more TLC between them than it is possible to give, or some of them only joined the club in the first instance for a salary that could not be matched elsewhere. I once upset some City supporters online by suggesting that there was something soulless about this galactico approach, but this bunny stands by that analysis even now. In my teens, I remember them as a club with fantastic supporters, the Maine Road ground that was invariably full, blessed as it was with an incredible atmosphere, and a team that could only be described as pisspoor, even spending an awkward season in the third tier before scrambling out via an epic play-off. Players like Goater, Dickov, Tiatto, Horlock and Morrison were not a patch in terms of raw ability on what they have now, but to a man they were honest, committed and did not possess a day on strike between them.

Manchester derbies invariably found this bunny willing City to find some means by which they could upset the applecart - in that sense I appreciate that their supporters will sacrifice the goodwill of a few neutrals for what they have now, but I very much doubt I'm alone in having had a great deal more fondness for them back then. When a team largely consists of star names and mercenaries who are more interested in remuneration than achievement, perhaps instances such as the 'Tevez on Strike' saga are an inevitable consequence?

I'll leave you with highlights of that memorable game between City and Gillingham, back when they were pants but neutrals still loved them (of course May 1999 was a solid month for Mancunian comebacks). Take care and I'll catch you soon.

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