By Paul Gardner
LONDON -- Carlos Tevez, it would appear, has committed the worst act that any soccer player has ever been guilty of. What he did, it seems, is to refuse to go on to the field as a substitute during the second half of Manchester City’s Champions League game against Bayern Munich.
That is his offense. Or rather his alleged offense -- because Tevez says the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and that he did not refuse to play. Manchester City, evidently taking Coach Roberto Mancini’s version as the truth, has suspended Tevez for two weeks while it investigates.
While that proceeds, the English media and virtually all the gurus and experts have adjudged Tevez guilty and have been greatly enjoying themselves ripping Tevez to shreds, condemning his character and demanding that he be severely punished.
If we thought that English xenophobia might have been disappearing as the Premier League featured more and more foreign players, it looks as though we were wrong -- it was merely waiting for a suitable moment to burst forth in all its prejudiced ugliness.
And what a target it has here -- Carlos Tevez, an Argentine if you please, a nationality that has always figured high in the English hate list.
As it’s not getting much attention while the sport of abusing the Argie reaches a climax, it’s worth taking a brief look at Tevez’s record in England: he arrived in 2006, went to West Ham, where he had two coaches -- Alan Pardew and Alan Curbishley, both of whom treated him as most English coaches would treat Argies, by leaving him on the bench. Tevez -- three-time South American Player of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005 -- was not considered good enough to play in the EPL. Tevez eventually forced his way on to the team at the end of the season, and saved West Ham from relegation with the crucial goal in a 1-0 win against Manchester United on the final day of the season.
He moved to Man U in 2007 -- and in two seasons there scored 34 goals in 99 games. In 2009, he moved across town to Man City -- and has played 84 games for them, scoring 52 goals. As team captain, he raised the FA Cup in 2011 -- the first trophy won by Man City in over 40 years.
The record is impressive but it is being totally ignored in the xenophobic torrent that now swirls around Tevez. He is suddenly a despicable character, not worth a moment’s thought or a touch of consideration or sympathy. The British media in its element, and at its worst. Headlines like “Carlos the Jackass,” “Let Him Rot," “A Toxic Asset,” plus comments like “a disgrace to football,” and “a dressing room cancer” are everywhere. Oh yes, and there’s a feeble editorial in The Times asking “What if we all refused to do our jobs as Carlos Tevez did?”
Tevez, then, is simply being trashed as a worthless human being. Compare that to the treatment accorded to Joey Barton, very English player. A “hard-nosed” midfielder with two criminal law convictions for violence, also guilty of a frightening physical assault that sent one of his own teammates to hospital, not to mention stubbing a cigarette into the eye of another, plus numerous onfield episodes of foul play ... this delightful young man has recently been signed by EPL club Queen’s Park Rangers and promptly given the captain’s arm band.
Talking of “combative” (a convenient euphemism for players like Barton) players, three of them have been heard from on the subject of Tevez -- three players with formidable records of thuggery. Man City player Nigel De Jong for a start. This is the guy who karate-kicked Xavi Alonso during last year’s World Cup final, and the guy responsible for breaking the legs of the USA’s Stuart Holden and Newcastle United’s Hatem Ben Arfa, but these are not crimes that call for much criticism in England, no one has ever demanded that De Jong “rot” for crippling fellow pros. So de Jong (he’s now a “straight-talking character” according to the Mirror) is giving advice to the Man City management on how to deal with the situation.
Robbie Savage, another thug who once earned the title of the dirtiest player in the EPL, has also been heard from, unashamedly trashing Tevez in a column fully backing the Man City coach, who is referred to as “my mate Roberto Mancini.” And it was that utterly callous hardman, Graeme Souness, who called Tevez “a disgrace to football.”
Tevez is no longer viewed as a talented soccer player -- certainly not to be compared with the likes of the trusty Brits Barton, Savage or Souness -- merely a nobody to be kicked around by people who possess a record that usually makes moralizing difficult for them. They have, of course, jumped all over Tevez.
Tevez, no doubt, will not play again for Man City. Financial considerations -- as Man City try to recover some of their considerable investment in the player (he cost them $75 million) will probably lead to a softening of the club’s position and Tevez will join another club, though not one in the EPL. And somehow or other, the sport of soccer will survive then apparent enormity of Tevez’s alleged crime.
That won’t take too long -- and it will then be time to ponder Mancini’s role in all this. To take a hard look at that game against Bayern Munich, in which Mancini was manifestly outcoached, in which his team was outplayed, and in which he mismanaged his substitutions late in the game, getting into a spat with striker Edin Dzeko as he came off the field, followed by the Tevez incident. And finishing with a 2-0 win, a rather easy one, for Bayern Munich.