Manchester United moved to within one point of their second successive Premier League championship with a 2-1 win at Wigan Athletic last night, and Carlos Tevez’s sublime backheel to bring them level provided further evidence, as if it was needed, of Tevez’s value to Alex Ferguson’s team. One suspects, however, that the Argentinian striker’s lasting legacy to football will end up being the constant of tug of wars over his registration as a player. Nothing in the career of Carlos Tevez, from his multi-million pound transfer to Corinthians at the age of twenty to his current contractual negotiations, has ever been straightforward. His agent, Kia Joorabchian still retains ownership of the player’s registration and, as befits such a bizarre contractual relationship, Tevez’s career has taken a few unexpected steps.
His transfer from Boca Juniors to Corinthians was brokered through Joorabchian, who has given every impression of completely controlling all of his player’s movements since then. When Tevez signed on loan for West Ham United with Javier Mascherano in the summer of 2006, it came amid reports in the British press that other clubs had turned down the offers made because of the onerous terms that Joorabchian insisted upon and, although Tevez’s performances during the closing stages of that season helped an otherwise moribund West Ham team to stay up, West Ham have come to repent at leisure over their involvement with him as they start paying the £20m that they now owe Sheffield United as a result of the out of court settlement that they reached following United’s relegation and the £5.5m fine that they received for the irregularities within his contract.
That Manchester United wanted to get involved with Tevez simultaneously is and isn’t a big surprise. On the one hand, he is an outstandingly talented footballer who fits the international profile of Manchester United. On the other, however, United were getting themselves involved in a footballer whose biggest single purpose has always seemed to be to make his agent as much money as possible. Whether Tevez has been a raging success at Old Trafford or not is a subject that can be debated until the cows come home, but the proof of the pudding is in the success that Manchester United have achieved since he arrived. Ultimately, football at the highest level is about squad building and the squad that he has been part of won the Premier League championship and the Champions League last season, and has won the League Cup and (almost certainly) the Premier League this season, with the Champions League final to be played at the end of this month.
Tevez is obviously an outstanding player, and Alex Ferguson must be drawn to Tevez’s very high work rate. Also, he has borne the compexities of being a squad player (with all of the drawbacks that this brings, including the more than occasional stays of the substitutes bench) with considerable magnanimity, or at least more magnanimity than he showed at West Ham, where he threw a strop himself after being substituted during a match against, ironically, Sheffield United. One suspects that Ferguson tolerates Cristiano Ronaldo because he is such an extraordinarily talented player, but it’s difficult to imagine that Ferguson’s patience isn’t tried by Ronaldo’s behaviour (witness, for example, his petulant hissy fit upon being substituted in the Manchester derby last weekend) and that Ferguson doesn’t occasionally think to himself, “If only Cristiano could be a little bit more like Carlos”. Whereas Ronaldo never seems to have squared the circle of the fact that the world doesn’t begin, middle and end with his talent as a footballer and that people – managers, fans, the public – have other expectations of him, Tevez has largely given every indication of merely wanting to play football.
The same, however, cannot be said for Joorabchian. Manchester United have the “option” to make Tevez’s strange two year loan period permanent but whether this will make the player and his agent as much money as another transfer is doubtful, and a peculiar row is now building between Joorabchian and Manchester United, with the agent (and implicitly the player) saying that United haven’t made an offer to sign him, while United insist that they have. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings are the likes of Real Madrid, who appear in this story like a middle-aged lothario in a hotel bar at the end of a night, combing their hair in preparation to make their move should relations between Joorabchian and United break down completely.
The career so far of Carlos Tevez has consisted of three transfers, two of which don’t really seem to have been in the best interests of the player. With all due respect to the Brazilian club, was a move from six-time Copa Libertadores winners Boca Juniors to Corinthians the best decision that a twenty year-old Argentinian rumoured to be one of the best young talents in the world the best decision that could have been made for his development as a player at the time? Likewise, was a year long loan at West Ham United the best decision for him in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 World Cup, where Argentina looked like shoo-ins to win the tournament before they unexpectedly ran out of steam against Germany in the quarter-finals?
Ultimately, Tevez could stay at Manchester United and pay Joorabchian the £22m that he is insisting upon, or he could go to Real Madrid, whose claim to be the “biggest football club in the world” has looked more and more threadbare over the last couple of years or so. Staying at Manchester United would most likely mean at the very least more domestic honours and quite possibly more European trophies. A move to Madrid to mean joining a team that was beaten 6-2 by Barcelona in La Liga just a couple of weeks ago. The question is whether Real have offered more to Joorabchian than United have, and there can be little question that any further transfers would not entail the agent continuing to retain “ownership” of the player, which would mean that there would at least be some sort of logic behind Joorabchian’s behaviour at present.
Of course, it’s not a matter of having a great deal of sympathy for Manchester United. If United were to lose out to Real (or anyone else, for that matter), they would only be being treated in the same way that they treated Tottenham Hotspur last summer with their shameless courting and unsettling of Dimitar Berbatov. The sad fact is that, at this level of football, the moral high ground isn’t particularly high at all. None of this, however, will stop a media circus building up over the next few days or weeks as the opposing sides dig themselves in for their tug of love over Carlos Tevez. The saddest thing about it all, however, is that what might the best thing for Tevez himself seems to be the last thing on anyone concerned’s mind.