Sport Soccer

Friday 22 September 2017

Tevez socks it to United in place where it hurts most

Carlos Tevez has become a bugbear for the Red Devils, says Dion Fanning

S o much for the peace talks. The Greater Manchester Police's plans to issue warnings to both Manchester clubs were instigated before the full transcript of Carlos Tevez's views on Gary Neville were published.

The refusal of Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini to comment on the row was the delayed consequence of the police's mediation, but the row itself has probably shattered all hopes of calm before Wednesday's second leg.

Instead the game has become the latest chapter in the morality tale that is now the tussle between these two clubs. The police think differently and the fans who tried to smuggle darts and other weapons into Eastlands last week were going too far, but the friction between United and City this season has given greater meaning to everything, even the Carling Cup.

Tevez has been at the centre of it from the moment he decided that the United fans would not be as hostile to him if he chose City ahead of Liverpool. The 'Welcome to Manchester' sign was the beginning but Tevez is at his best when fuelled by a self-righteous anger and Neville allowed him to tap into that again last week.

Tevez has topped Robbie Fowler's description of Neville. Fowler described him as a "busy bollocks" and there was something of that in Neville's decision to use his column in The Times of Malta -- he is a colonial figure Neville Neville's boy, a tourism ambassador in Malta -- to back Ferguson's decision not to sign Tevez.

Neville was backing his manager's judgement in answer to a reader's question and his quote "if the financial demands are too big, that's just the way it goes" is not the same kind of taunt as was reported.

Of course, it was none of Neville's business but, even during the good times, other people's business has always been something that interested Neville. Now there is an air of desperation about his personal interventions as he reaches the end of his career which mirrors the anguish around Old Trafford these days.

Tevez's assessment of his reason seemed accurate. Neville was "a sock-sucker" which has been translated as "boot-licker". Sock-sucker is better, adding a frisson and a slightly repulsive intimacy to the whole thing.

Neville was fighting other people's battles or perhaps he felt he was fighting Manchester United's, something he has always been willing to do, especially when United face City or Liverpool.

He could have stayed away from Tevez though. In his zeal to defend Manchester United, he showed little understanding of the player's character. After a quiet spell, Tevez is now City's most dangerous player, re-energised by Mancini and inspired by Neville whose comments he read before the game last week.

"I don't know what the hell that idiot is talking about me for. I never said anything about him," Tevez said, changing that with his cutting comments and adding to the air of expectancy around this week's second leg.

The ludicrous Garry Cook was adding to the pressure with his comments in a New York bar which, again, showed that while he understands that comedy has always been part of City's history, he has yet to grasp the role of hubris.

Ferguson may be confident that his side's experience will get them through but if City hold their nerve -- a big question about any City team -- then the vulnerability of United could be exposed again.

United can point out that their vulnerability hasn't prevented them staying at the top of the league, but few would contend that this has been a glorious season for Manchester United.

They may not care about the FA Cup, but they certainly care about losing at Old Trafford to Leeds United and Ferguson will be even more determined not to allow City a moment of triumph at his ground on Wednesday.

Tevez may have summoned some passion from Neville's words, although he didn't need it given his recent form, but Ferguson may use the controversy to create some defiance of his own.

Tevez has been a fault-line for United and their supporters. United fans, whose chants told the most successful manager in the game how to do his job by chanting "sign him up", now claim he was too expensive.

The reality of United's financial mess has not been absorbed by some who cannot comprehend that it was only the Glazers' business strategy that allowed Cristiano Ronaldo and Tevez to be replaced with Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen.

Owen at least is providing a holistic approach. In his latest 'Why I am still great' interview yesterday, he explained how he provides some supplementary half-time advice to Wayne Rooney which, at least, shows he is keeping himself busy.

Tevez is looking after himself. Neville would have no problem with that. In another contribution to The Times of Malta, Neville responds to questions about loyalty. The one-club man can see things from another point of view. "Is there loyalty in anything nowadays? You can't just talk of football players. The divorce rate is up, architects leave their business, people who work in the catering sector move from one restaurant to the other . . . This is life. People want a better wage."

In Argentina, some are portraying the row as a class war between impoverished Tevez and the aristocrat Neville. Few would agree. Neville has always been a man of the people, but just his people.

Sunday Independent

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