Friday, 23 March 2012
Shedloads of Money, Shedloads of Problems
So now we know. A player CAN be bigger than the manager in Manchester. Sir Alex Ferguson has spent the best part of a quarter of a century arguing to the contrary, shipping off your David Beckhams, your Jaap Stams and your Roy Keanes at the faintest sign of dissent, but Roberto Mancini, hand forced or not, last night flew in the face of such folly, swapping a principled stand for a pragmatic one. That Carlos Tevez would have a huge hand in the winning goal with a delightful slide rule assist to Samir Nasri was almost a given; the scriptwriters have been in fine form at Eastlands this season.
Six months ago, Tevez, of course, refused to warm up when a subsititute in a Champions League group match against Bayern Munich. In the ensuing period, the striker has been to Argentina a lot, although City couldn’t exactly say when, for how long at a time or exactly what he’d been doing while there (presumably enjoying the famous steaks by the look of him last night). His talent and commitment on the pitch have never been in doubt; not while at Manchester United and not while at City.
But if it’s true that the principled course of action was to let Tevez metaphorically rot in the reserves, City found themselves a victim of their own bank balance. No one can afford to pay the Argentine’s wages and few would take the gamble of stumping up the alleged asking price of £30m for fear that he would decide to go AWOL again when asked to something ludicrous and demeaning like… train, or not shit on the floor. However – preaching squad unity and letting a striker rot in the reserves is one thing, when you are winning. But City started losing...
A goal glut in the immediate aftermath of the Tevez saga papered over any cracks that may have emerged during after being soundly beaten in Munich. Indeed, City hit one six, one five, two fours and three threes in little more than a month. Edin Dzeko was in fine form and everyone’s favourite miscreant Mario Balotelli was hitting the back of the net for fun. No Carlos, no problems. But even if Yaya Toure in his pre-match Sky interview before the Chelsea game did not have had the foggiest when asked if he was familiar with the term ‘squeaky bum time’, his club have certainly been exhibiting all the signs of collective oracular anuses (ani?) since the reality that City could actually win the league sank in.
Starting with the 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on December 12, City’s away form has been P7, W2, D1 and L4. It is that sort of wayward form that conjures images of Newcastle’s collapse in 1996 under Kevin Keegan (though one struggles to imagine Roberto Mancini having quite as spectacular a media meltdown). And perhaps mindful of City’s tougher title run-in than United’s, the manager has decided it better to let sleeping dogs lie and invite back to the fold a player who has committed that most cardinal of footballing sins (judging by the reactions of the likes of Graeme Souness). Principles go out of the window when your remarkable home form – 20 wins on the bounce and no defeat since falling to Everton in December 2010 – might not prove enough to get you over the finishing line with your nose in front.
And who’s to say that six months in the cold isn’t punishment enough? A slightly swifter apology would have been nice though – although it’s probably quite hard to articulate remorse around a mouthful of steak. Or maybe Tevez’s own unique solution to that particular problem is to set up the winner in a match that has just catapulted City back into the midst of the title race once more? As far as prodigal sons go, why not Carlos Tevez? He runs around loads and is a really good footballer, and, as far as we know, he hasn’t got previous on racist slurs, which, in our book at least, makes him more palatable than John Terry or Luis Suarez. A model mercenary for modern times.
With Tevez back on the pitch to warm applause – the Sky cameras picking up the obligatory fan holding up a Tevez 32 shirt – one thing became very clear: in modern football, everyone is well aware of how to get their money’s worth.