FOX Soccer Exclusive
Tevez helping City's late resurgence
Carlos Tévez is back in the swing of things. The Manchester City striker celebrated his hat trick against Norwich on Saturday as though he were back on the fairway; selecting an imaginary club, taking aim, then lining a drive towards the corner flag in the mock belief that it signaled a hole in one.
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He’d certainly had a fine round, even by his own high standards, and purposely called to mind the most evocative and enduring image of his six-month exile from City: that of him winning the Buenos Aires Grand Prix, a professional and amateur golf tournament back in Argentina.
It might yet be the only trophy Tévez wins this season, as while he improved his handicap on the fairways, his team, ironically, played with a higher one in his absence. His golf threatens to have spoiled City’s walk to a first title for 44 years.
It begs the question: what if he hadn’t refused to come on 10 minutes into the second half of City’s Champions League group stage defeat to Bayern Munich in late September? Would things have been any different? It’s easy to say that they might have been with hindsight.
But the fact is, at the time, City were doing perfectly well without Tévez. They responded to his banishment by going on an awe-inspiring nine-game winning streak in the midst of which Manchester United were dispatched 6-1 at Old Trafford, and later cut adrift by as much as eight points. Who needed Tévez?
With the backing of his fellow managers and the papers too, manager Roberto Mancini was completely vindicated in his stance that “if a player plays for Manchester City in the Champions League and earns a lot of money and does this, then he can never play for me again… For me he is finished.”
Tévez, it seemed, would never be seen in a City shirt again. Except, now he is. Once City came under pressure and their title challenge began to falter, memories of how useful the presence of last season’s top scorer in the Premier League might be ensured that pragmatism prevailed over a point of principle.
By abandoning the moral high ground, there’s a sense that Mancini’s standing has been diminished, and that remaining in contention for honors is more important than honor itself. Tévez apologized to “everyone I have let down and to whom my actions over the last few months have caused offense.” Mancini responded with, “there is no problem, it’s in the past.”
A phony peace, temporary truce or Faustian pact, whatever you want to call it, was agreed for the sake of expediency. City’s hopes of winning the title came before everything. Yet trusting them with the traitorous Tévez, reduced by half a season of not playing, seemed incontrovertibly desperate.
“I’m going to have to be brilliant [to win over the critics]. It’s not going to be easy for me, nor the fans,” Tévez told FOX Sports in Argentina. But any residual anger City supporters once felt, dissipated as they entered an hour of need. With their grip on the Premier League trophy loosening, they were keen to forgive and forget if Tévez could help wrest it back.
And so, when he made his return and helped City come from behind by assisting Samir Nasri’s winning goal against Chelsea, there were no boos, only cheers.
Recovering form and fitness, Tévez was then excellent in his first start of the season at home to West Brom; involving himself in everything, linking the play superbly and opening his account for the year in a 4-0 win that did much to indicate City were about to click into gear again.
The burgeoning promise of his partnership with compatriot Sergio Agüero was fulfilled as City returned to victory on the road for the first time in two months, leaving Carrow Road 6-1 winners.
Tévez’s opening strike from outside the box caught the eye, as did his third and final one, when he capitalized on a defensive mistake and went around goalkeeper John Ruddy. But it was his back-heeled assist for Agüero’s first of the afternoon that brought many of City’s traveling support to their feet.
In the three games that they’ve started together, Tévez and Agüero have found the net 11 times. Belatedly, Mancini might just have found his best attack.
Is it enough for Tévez to find redemption in his eyes? This is the debate raging in England at the moment. “Scoring goals does not provide mitigation, still less atonement,” wrote The Times’s Matthew Syed in reaction to the growing perception that Tévez has ways to go to repent for his sins.
Rightly or wrongly, it’s sufficient for City at the moment. His teammates appear to harbor no resentment towards him. Joleon Lescott and Nigel De Jong were quick to join in, mimic and laugh about Tévez’s golf celebration on Saturday.
“We’re not dwelling on the past. Who’s to say that if Carlos had stayed he wouldn’t have got injured and been out for the rest of the season?” Lescott mused. “We’re just grateful now that he’s back and playing for Man City and scoring goals.”
Tévez evidently still commands respect in the dressing room. When he’s available and not in dispute with the club, they know he gives 100% and that he works as hard as anyone else, both on the training ground or on game day. They have looked to him to win games in the past and he has not disappointed. That perhaps explains the difference between the team’s attitude towards Tévez and Mario Balotelli.
Next up, it’s bottom club Wolves on Sunday. City will be mindful of the fact they lost 2-1 at Molineux last season. Even though their hosts haven’t won a game since early February, a team fighting for their lives against relegation is seldom easy to overcome: just ask Manchester United and Arsenal after their recent defeats to Wigan.
Another win for City would make it their third in a row. Confidence is high again. “We just need to continue to play the way we are and we will arrive at the top,” Tévez insists. United might have something to say about that come the derby on April 30.
James Horncastle is a European soccer writer with articles published in The Blizzard, Champions magazine and FourFourTwo.
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