Given how football has a knack for affecting one’s emotions, it seems only natural that special relationships can form between players and clubs. Barely a handful of these remain unsullied throughout the course of a career. Granted, there are honourable exceptions such as the forever yours commitments shown by the likes of Francesco Totti and Ryan Giggs, but the overwhelming majority of unions are broken at some point. Harsh realities will overcome love in the beautiful game. The temptation to look outside of a relationship, special though it might be, has a tendency to arrive in the form of head-turning riches, or the promise of greater glory elsewhere.
As supporters, once the initial anger or sadness has subsided, we have a tendency (unless their name is Sol Campbell) to overlook a feeling of betrayal through the grace of time. Indeed, if our heroes go on to greater successes, we can come to feel pride and lay claim to them as still one of our own. Deep down, we tell ourselves that, while he might be playing for them, his heart is really still with us. When he’s running to another club’s crowd, arms aloft, celebrating a goal, it’s our faces and not theirs that he’s seeing. It’s our colours and our badge that he’s still playing for.
Carlos Tevez is a prime example of somebody who, by virtue of being a leading South American footballer, has had to break a lot of hearts in his hometown of Buenos Aires. What’s more, Tevez has done it twice to those in the blue and yellow of Boca Juniors. The first time wasn’t unexpected. As sure in life as death and taxes are, every Argentinian footballer possessing even a shred of Tevez’s talent is sure to move to Europe at some stage in their career. That’s just the way it is given the rich opportunities and financial rewards that exist across the Atlantic. Boca, like their archrivals River Plate, are a giant club in South America, but they’re not of the same stature worldwide. The Argentinian league doesn’t have the profile of a La Liga, Serie A or Premier League. It’s a platform, but it’s not the main stage.
Despite his tender age, “Carlitos” as he soon came to be known, didn’t carry the appearance of fresh-faced adolescence when he first made his professional debut with Boca. Tevez, with visible scars and broken teeth, looked like a young prizefighter, not the well-trained protégé type, but rather a natural fighter coaxed from the mean streets for a shot on the biggest stage.
Tevez carried around the brutal truths of his upbringing upon his body and face. He grew up in the Ejército de Los Andes neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, better known as Fuerte Apache. The neighbourhood, large in scale but poverty-stricken, crime-ridden, and overcrowded was a difficult and dangerous place for anybody to grow up within. By his first birthday, Baby Carlos had already spent two months in intensive care due to having boiling water spilt over him accidentally. “There were tough times, growing up in Fuerte Apache,” Tevez later reflected. “When it was dark and you looked out of the window, what you saw would scare anyone. After a certain hour you couldn’t go into the street. It was incredible.”
Tevez’s escape from the harsh realities of everyday life in one of Argentina’s most dangerous neighbourhoods was street football. He and his friends would play with a tennis ball - sometimes even a broken one. It wasn’t until after his eleventh birthday that he kicked a proper football. Tevez learnt the tricks of the trade during these contests. “Street football is the greatest thing in the world,” he later insisted. “There is just you and your friends against the rest. If someone feels he has to stick a foot in your throat, he will." Occasionally, his overzealousness during a neighbourhood game landed him in trouble, including an occasion when a dispute turned into a fight and ended with Tevez suffering several broken teeth.
Boca, having seen talents the stature of Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Martín Palermo, and Walter Samuel pass through their doors en route to making a name for themselves in Europe, would have expected the proverbial hourglass to be have been set running as soon as the then-sixteen year old Tevez took his first steps out onto the La Bombonera pitch. Tevez, only 5’8” but with a strong, stocky, stature that belied his tender years, quickly won over the locals during his early performances.
In his first season at Boca, he played alongside the creative elegance of Riquelme. Riquelme played as though hardly breaking stride, picking and probing away at opponent defences from within the invisible zone between the halfway line and the opposition penalty area. By contrast, Tevez played at a pace reminiscent of a furious great white shark during a feeding frenzy. While he was outrageously gifted in front of goal, it was the local boy’s intoxicating style that captured the hearts of the Boca Juniors supporters. All energy, aggression and skill, Tevez would push his body to the limit no matter who the opposition or what the occasion was. Every game took on the same desperate importance as those he once played on the streets of Fuerte Apache. For Tevez, the affection from the stands was mutual. These were his people. He identified with them. By his second season at the club, he was affectionately known as “El Apache.” A lifelong bond had been forged between player and club.
With Tevez leading the line Boca swept the board in 2003, winning the Primera División and the Copa Libertadores. By the time the summer of 2004 rolled around, Tevez was already established as the next big thing to emerge from Buenos Aires. After representing his country in their run to the semi-finals of that summer’s Copa América, the Olympic games in Athens served as the launchpad for Tevez’s career from Argentinian hero to future world star. Tevez was the pick of a star-studded line-up, winning the golden boot with eight goals in six games, as he and his teammates romped their way to the gold medal prize. Despite being a nation of 39 million people, Argentina had not won a gold medal since Tranquilo Cappozzo and Eduardo Guerrero won the double sculls in Helsinki in 1952, so Tevez and his teammates became instant national heroes back in their homeland.
During the tournament, Tevez’s eye-catching style, not to mention his prolificacy in front of goal, won him legions of admirers. Talk of a move to Europe inevitably heightened with each goal and each display of raw, pedal to the metal, willpower. Away from the pitch, Tevez now found himself under an increasing media spotlight from an intrusive Argentine press. With his colourful personal life now making national headlines, Tevez began to question whether he had outgrown his surroundings. Boca, realizing that it was virtually impossible for their gem to shine any brighter than at the present time, decided to listen to offers.
When they did eventually come, it was a surprise suitor who won the day. Despite the football world expecting Tevez to cross the Atlantic, he instead headed north and, in a shock move, joined Corinthians. The Brazilian club, newly wealthy thanks to their partnership with the London-based Media Sports Investment company (MSI), coincidentally the exact same company that represented Tevez himself, won the race for his coveted signature. The fee, rumoured to be around $20 million, was a record signing for South American football. Tevez, reported as receiving 10% of the fee, instantly became financially set for life. Despite his newly found wealth, “El Apache” departed the La Bombonera with a heavy heart, vowing to one day return and reignite his love affair with Boca.
Following a solitary season in Brazil, during which Tevez won a league title and found himself honoured as the South American player of the year for the third consecutive time, his management team finally pulled the trigger on his long awaited move to Europe. If an expensive Argentine signing for a Brazilian club raised eyebrows, shockwaves reverberated around the football world the day Tevez and fellow compatriot, Javier Mascherano, were photographed holding aloft claret and blue scarves at West Ham United’s Upton Park.
It was an ugly transfer, ultimately declared to be illegal by FIFA once the terms of the deal were investigated later. The deal also contravened Premier League rules when it came to light that third-party owners (MSI), and not West Ham, still owned the player’s economic rights and with it the ability to negotiate a transfer away with the club being legally powerless.
Despite the legal wrangling off the pitch, Tevez made a splash on it. Eventually let off the leash after an adjustment period, the striker captured East End hearts as he scored six goals in the final ten games of the season, and chased, harried, and worked his socks off to edge them clear of the relegation trapdoor.
Tevez moved on again that summer, an understandable decision given how quickly his star had risen since arriving in England. A highly successful two-year loan spell with Manchester United followed, during which Tevez formed a devastating attacking partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, winning the Premier League twice and the Champions League in 2008.
However, misgivings over the perceived negative influence Tevez’s management had over their client led to the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, choosing to stall on converting his two-year loan into a permanent switch. By the time Ferguson made up his mind to make an offer, an affronted Tevez had already had his head turned by the “noisy neighbours” down the road.
Joining the Manchester City oil-rich revolution, Tevez would have an eventful four-year stay. He scored 73 goals in 148 appearances during a period where City won the Premier League and FA Cup. However, his antics later on in his Etihad career overshadowed his brilliance on the pitch. An incident during a Champions League tie at Bayern Munich, in which Tevez apparently refused his manager’s request to leave the substitutes bench to warm up, led to the Argentine being suspended for two weeks. Tevez, unrepentant, chose to fly back to Buenos Aires without authorization from City. This led to him being placed on indefinite gardening leave by furious club officials and cost Tevez a reported £10m in salary, fines and lost bonus payments. Though he eventually did return to the fold later on in the season, following six months in the wilderness, the die had already been cast on Tevez’s time at the Etihad.
Some of Tevez’s behaviour at Manchester City might be explained by the well-publicized reports of he and his family’s struggles to settle in the UK. His wife and two daughters returned to Argentina in 2011 and never came back, leaving him alone and miserable in a city in which he later claimed to have no interest in returning to once he left. Tevez struggled with learning English and though he had compatriots at the club, such as Sergio Agüero and Pablo Zabaleta, that he could turn to for support, Tevez would lose some goodwill by giving interviews back home in Argentina in which he complained bitterly of the English culture and weather. Desperate to leave the club, a transfer request was submitted, but the one destination he wanted to head to was unrealistic. “To go back to Boca Juniors would be beautiful but it is very difficult,” Tevez revealed in an interview with a Buenos Aires radio station. “But if we’re speaking seriously, financial issues would make my return difficult.” He would instead have to wait a little bit longer to return to his first love.
Following a highly successful, trouble free, two years playing under Antonio Conte at Juventus, during which Tevez added two Serie A titles to his now-swollen medal collection, he finally received the news he’d been waiting for with all the patience of a raging bull. After eleven years being a nomad overseas, and countless references to one day returning to his spiritual home, the now thirty-one year old Carlos Tevez was offered the opportunity to make an emotional journey home to Boca.
It was a spectacular coup for the Buenos Aires club. Tevez had been a regular in Turin, and was coming off a season where had had scored twenty-nine goals, during which Juventus had won Serie A and reached the Champions League final. While some at Boca thought there a reasonable, but by no means guaranteed, chance that Tevez might return home upon the expiration of his contract with the Turin giant, departing from it early, and at an age where he could still walk into most top European sides, came as a huge surprise.
Juventus did Tevez and Boca a favour, of sorts, by allowing him to leave for the relatively modest fee of £4.7 million when they could, if they had wished, played hardball and forced an important player of theirs to remain until the end of his contract. In truth, it was a reward for two years spent representing the Old Lady with distinction and perhaps also an indication that they wished to avoid the angst Tevez inflicted upon his previous club each time his never ending pining for Buenos Aires wore him down. Either way, both parties departed on good terms with a glowing tribute to “Carlitos” posted on the Juventus website.
The transfer could never have happened without an awful lot of sacrifice on Tevez’s part. Though the striker was already a very wealthy individual, he still had to take an enormous pay cut in order to make the transfer happen. The Boca president, Daniel Angelici, having overseen the biggest transfer in Boca’s history, could barely contain himself once the deal was confirmed; "it is a day of joy and great satisfaction,” he gleamed. “The return of Carlos Tevez in an extraordinary moment of his career is fantastic news for all partners and supporters of Boca and Argentine football. In Argentine football, there is not another player like Carlitos," Martucci added. "This is a great joy for all the fans of Boca.”
In July Tevez finally made his long-awaited return to the La Bombonera in front of 40,000 adoring Boca supporters. Hailing it as the best day of his life, Tevez received a hero’s welcome home from, among others, Diego Maradona, who passed down a banner from the directors box with the message “Thanks for coming back, Carlitos” emblazoned across it. Tevez carried it around his neck as he lapped the pitch, taking in the adulation from jubilant Boca supporters. “I gave up a lot of money to come here, and be happy,” Tevez told the press, “obviously I’ve come back to Boca to finish my career at the club that I love and I am a supporter of.” Tevez, as expected, had an instant impact in the blue and yellow shirt, scoring nine goals to help fire Boca to an Argentine Primera División and Copa Argentina double.
If this were a typical Cinderella story, the narrative would finish there with the fairytale ending of Tevez’s career coming full circle and him finishing his celebrated playing days with the only club to which his heart ever truly belonged. Instead, the harsh realities of modern football were to spoil everything when Tevez stunned the football world once again by departing Boca only eighteen months after he made his long-awaited second debut.
If news of Tevez parting ways with Boca for the second time forced a tremor within the football world, his choice of destination, China’s little known Shanghai Shenhua, caused an earthquake. The figures involved in the deal, reported to be worth £615,000 per week to Tevez, were staggering, even by the easy-spending recent standards of the Chinese Super League. However, the offer was put on the table and it was one that neither Boca nor Tevez felt they could refuse. It made Tevez, at thirty-two years old, the highest-paid player in world football.
It’s arguable that nobody should have been surprised by Tevez’s willingness to go along with the move. As we’ve seen throughout his career, Tevez’s role as a client, or cash cow depending upon your particular stance, for Media Sports Investment always conflicted with his genuine, wholehearted, displays when representing whichever team MSI had taken him to. Though Kia Joorabchian and company shoulder the lion’s share of the criticism for the way in which their client moves, seemingly free of emotion, from club to club, contract to contract, Tevez himself has to accept some responsibility too. There’s a strong argument to be made that, beneath the sweat and the smiles, Tevez is a pure footballing mercenary. An exception to the norm, yes, by virtue of his Fuerte Apache ingrained, lung-bursting style which can cause an admiring fan base to overlook what, deep down, they know is going to eventually come down the road.
Maradona, arguably his biggest supporter, once labeled Tevez as “the player of the people.” It was more of a nod to the extreme poverty to which Tevez admirably fought his way out of to reach the very top of “the people’s game” than a reference to Tevez’s ethics. His love for Boca Juniors is the one genuine thing we know but, even then, the people’s champion eventually had a price.
Already there have been rumblings emerging from Shanghai of Tevez’s discontent with, once again, being away from his beloved Buenos Aires. Tevez also complained to a Spanish TV station that the standards of Chinese football were fifty years behind Europe. It was another in a long list of overseas interviews he’s tended to give whenever he’s unhappy with his current predicament before returning, shamelessly no doubt, to whatever club was paying him a fortune to represent them.
He found himself in further hot water of late when photographed at Shanghai’s Disneyland while his teammates were in action at Changchun Yatai. Tevez was ruled out through a calf injury, but his absence from supporting his teammates in favour of a day out at a theme park did little to dispel doubts over his commitment to his new team. For the first time in his career, his displays on the pitch have also been disappointing with his usual all-action style strangely absent and instead a more deeper playing, less intense, Tevez has often appeared. Whether it’s age, fitness, or unhappiness, Tevez has played in a subdued, and at times disinterested manner for Gus Poyet’s side.
Talk of Tevez returning to Boca for a third stint has started to gather pace. The Boca president, Daniel Angelici, has already spoken publicly in favour of bringing Tevez back to the club, but this time for good. "For me personally, I would like to have Tevez back, even just one leg of him. The day that he decides to retire I would like to have him by my side at our club,” said Angelici in April this year. “Even in an ambassador's role. I would love for him to represent our club throughout the world.”
In some ways, Tevez, the raging bull of Buenos Aires is reminiscent of the Story of Ferdinand. In the story, rich merchants take Ferdinand the bull, the strongest and best of all the bulls, away to Madrid to fight in bullfights. However, Ferdinand would rather be back home, lying under his favourite tree and smelling flowers. When the time comes to enter the arena, Ferdinand is disinterested. Eventually the matadors grow tired of trying to provoke Ferdinand into a fight and allow him to return home again.
Carlos Tevez never wanted to leave home either. If he could have spent his entire professional career with Boca, he probably would have. However, as the biggest and best that Argentina had to offer he was destined, like Ferdinand, to head overseas at the behest of others. If Tevez’s story ends like Ferdinand’s did, happy and content to once again be back at the only place he’s ever truly loved, then Tevez, and football too, will have itself a fairytale ending.