Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The stuff of a Biblical soap opera

And so it began. Or rather - so it began again. If Manchester City fans believed that they had seen the last of Carlos Tevez in a sky blue shirt, then they imagined wrongly.

Because, like the prodigal son of Biblical fame, Carlos has come back, begging for forgiveness. And in equally Biblical fashion, he has felt the arms of the club embrace him again. It might be said that he is – to continue the religious analogies – ‘born again’.

Late yesterday afternoon, Tevez stepped onto a football pitch for the first time since his refusal to warm up – and therefore play – for the Blues in Munich.

That withdrawal of labour had come in the glamorous-as-it-gets Champions’ League, but this return was in a reserve (or elite development squad, to be accurate) match against Preston North End – one of the founder members of the football league to be sure (and the first English league champions), but not romantic opposition these days.

He lasted 45 minutes. Which, after a five-month, self-inflicted holiday, is not bad.

Football is a funny old mix of the pragmatic and the romantic.

For every religious analogy, there are others types. This has gone from low farce to operatic drama to soap opera and back.

Actually, the soap opera is what I keep thinking of - even though I haven't watched one in close to 30 years.

This isn’t EastEnders or Corrie: what’s in my mind is Dynasty, with Tevez all over-sized shoulder pads and a veritable wardrobe full of diva flounces.

Boss Roberto Mancini might have initially lost the plot in the immediate aftermath of the events against Bayern Munich – and I'm being ├╝ber-critical here – but he has totally out-played Tevez and his band of advisors ever since.

Paternal, calm and offering the possibilities of forgiveness and redemption, it's been a classic performance.

One of the prime parts of the problem, though, is Kia Joorabchian, Tevez’s agent and a man that, frankly and personally, I wouldn’t trust further than I could throw him. In fact, probably less than that. So a bit of a sort of backward pass, as in rugby. But let's stop that analogy right there, before it gets really tortured.

Tevez is, I suspect, hardly the brightest penny in the jar – which is no crime. But actually, in saying that, what I really mean is that, as a son of one the poorest areas of Buenos Airies, he won't have had much formal education.

So let's be clear that he’s done superbly to lift himself from those humble beginnings – and apparently doesn't pretend they didn't occur.

That, of course, brings me to the thought that he's a little like one Diego Maradona. Okay – not quite as gifted, but hardly untalented – but in other ways, there are similarlties.

But one senses the finger of the university-educated Joorabchian – and a bunch of Russian ‘businessmen’ who, through Media Sports Investment, have ‘owned’ the player – in much of the problems that have plagued his entire career.

Of course, there’s the wider problem of agents in football per se: they have a vested interest in unsettling their clients, because that’s how they make money.

Tevez has been being unsettled at City for well over a year – two transfer requests in the last 15 months or so were hardly helpful, plus there was the sulk that saw him have to be threatened with disciplinary action by the club when he was intending to miss the post-FA Cup victory celebrations in the city.

He's certainly not getting good advice.

Last summer, he was almost on his way back to South America after the club had cut its asking price and said that Corinthians could pay in instalments. But that fell through at the last minute.

Hardly surprising, then, that Mancini opted to take the captaincy away from Tevez and give it to the magnificent Vincent Kompany.

All of which provoked another strop from the falling star as he complained about not getting his ‘loyalty bonus’. Well no, Carlos – the clue is in the word ‘loyalty’.

Yet the fans forgave him.

Tevez might be ‘high maintenance’ off the pitch (and Mancini had fallen over backwards to accommodate him more than once, particularly when he was complaining of being home sick), but at least when he was on it, he’d give the proverbial 110%.

So it was hardly surprising that refusal to go on to the pitch – or do the warming up that would have subsequently led to that – would be met with such anger, not just from Mancini, but from the fans.

So what now, with this climate of apology and forgiveness?

Pragmatism, methinks.

Personally, I never wanted to see him near the club again. But the club – although richer that Croesus – needs to comply with the forthcoming new financial rules and could do without letting him go for nothing.

Which rather left sacking out of the equation – and also means he needs to play to avoid a rule whereby, as a senior player, he could walk out without a transfer fee at the end of the season if he didn't make enough appearances.

To get anything like the sort of mood that he would like – and the January transfer window revealed interest but no buyers – Tevez needs to change the theme and remind people that he's actually a damned good player. A game changer, indeed.

So here he is, back at City, with that in mind. Doing his best for the club, on the pitch, is now his way of escape.

And what of the fans?

Well, those of us of a certain vintage might recall comparisons with marital infidelity. Howard Kendall notoriously left the manager's post at Maine Road to return to Everton, declaring the former to have been an extra-marital dalliance and the latter his one true love.

So I would be worried about great claims of love in this instance. But there have been none – and pragmatism might work in our favour.

City have been long enough without a title that, as the possibility of a championship grows slowly closer, I am personally prepared to say that, if Carlos Tevez can bring something positive to the final months of the campaign, then I for one will welcome him – if not exactly with open arms and a ticker tape parade – but with a sage nod and with pragmatism in my heart, and with the continued belief that there is something even greater that (hopefully!) awaits us in the none-too-distant future.

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