Former favourite languishes in supporting role
Roberto Mancini made eye contact and delivered his words matter-of-factly. Carlos Tevez was not in the Manchester City team, he explained, because the cold reality was he did not deserve a place. "At this moment," he said, "there are players who are better than him."
His expression was of a man who had already taken the view that, if that meant problems further down the line, then so be it. The dynamics have changed at City this season. Mancini increasingly gives the impression he is not willing to bend for anyone, and the days are gone when the club were prepared to coddle Tevez, place an arm around his shoulder and tell him whatever he wanted to hear to make him feel special.
A manager can take these kind of decisions when he has two other players excelling in the arts of centre-forward play. Sergio Aguero has scored six times in his first five games since signing from Atletico Madrid. Edin Dzeko has seven goals from his five appearances and barely looks recognisable from the maladroit player who plodded through matches last season.
For Tevez, it meant a place among the substitutes for the Champions League tie against Napoli on Wednesday, and probably the same again when City take on Fulham at Craven Cottage today. Four league games into the season, Tevez has lost the captaincy and his place. "I don't know if he is happy," Mancini said. "But it's normal in football that any player who is not playing is not happy."
Tevez being Tevez, Mancini and his coaching staff have already discussed the possibility that, sooner or later, his rebellious side might come to the surface. Perhaps tellingly, however, it is not something that appears to trouble City as it once would have. One insight from Eastlands was of Mancini being encouraged by an apparent improvement in Mario Balotelli's training-ground behaviour.
The word is that if there is a mutinous reaction from Tevez the manager is comfortable about Balotelli taking over as first-choice understudy.
The lesson of history is that Tevez does not take well to feeling underused. "He's not someone who can play one game in three and be happy," Gary Neville writes in his new autobiography, confirming what everyone had suspected about Tevez's second season at Manchester United. "He was in and out of the team and he became insecure. After the hunger of the first year, he'd started to toss it off a bit in training. He was constantly saying his back was sore. He'd become very fond of a massage."
They can tell you at West Ham, too, about Tevez's desire to be the biggest fish in every pond. Tevez reacted to being substituted in one game at Upton Park by storming out of the ground. He did apologise to the manager, Alan Pardew, but his dislike of other people making his choices was evident again when the other players were asked to choose a training-ground forfeit. They agreed he should wear a Brazil shirt. Tevez refused.
Neville's conclusion from two years together at Old Trafford is of a player whose ego never recovered from the signing of Dimitar Berbatov. "He's a brilliant striker, as he has proved at City. But I can judge only on what he did in that second season and, to all of us at United, it seemed his heart wasn't in it. He'd been upset by the signing of Berba, and Carlos needs to feel the love."
Except there is not a great deal of love and affection at Eastlands for a player who has made it clear he is in Manchester only because he could not arrange a multi-million pound escape route. Tevez scored or made almost half of City's league goals last season, but Aguero's arrival is marginalising him in the way Berbatov did at United and, just as at Old Trafford, there is a sense at City that he is not giving everything in training. "When he is playing well," Mancini said, "probably he will have a chance."
The supporters have new heroes. Vincent Kompany wears the armband these days and, when the teams were read out for the Napoli game, there was not even a flicker of surprise that Tevez had been left out. A year ago, with City needing a goal, the crowd would have implored Mancini to introduce him. On this occasion the sideshow of Tevez's warm-up -- a few stretches on the spot while repeatedly looking over to Mancini -- passed almost unnoticed.
Last Saturday against Wigan Athletic Tevez delivered a through ball for Micah Richards that was weighted with such perfection it reminded us what a formidable opponent he can be. In the same game, however, he missed a penalty with a weak, scruffy effort, totally out of keeping with City's confident football. It is Dzeko's name that is sung the loudest by supporters these days. For now at least, the volume has gone down on Tevez.
Sunday Indo Sport