Cometh the hour, cometh the man who simply can't be arsed
If sport reveals character, what does it tell us about Carlos Tevez? If you knew nothing of Tevez other than his great footballing skill and were a committed member of the sport-reveals-character fraternity, you would be mesmerised by him.
"This," you would say, "is a great man, perhaps even a great humanitarian." You would watch his gargantuan effort on the field and want to know all about this man, this monument to heroism and valour. You would observe his appetite for hard work and conclude that this man was wasted merely on the football field, he should be shaping the game in many different ways and you would ask questions about charitable deeds and his acts of selflessness in all areas of his life.
Unfortunately, sport does not reveal character, it reveals aspects of character, and it reveals nothing about a man as much as his contradictions.
Would you judge, say, Roy Keane's character by his actions on the field for Manchester United or by his decisions as a manager? Which is the more reliable guide to a man's character? Where does his punditry fit in?
A player who is playing well while enduring some off-field problems is said to be showing 'admirable character' by putting those problems to one side. In fact, he might just be a sociopath.
Tevez makes the case through his work that sport is art. He demands that we separate the artist from his work. He is football's Woody Guthrie, a fearless righter of wrongs in the artistic arena, but not a man you would want to spend too much time with off stage.
Last week, he was condemned to another few months of suffering when he could find no way out of Manchester City before the transfer window closed.
Tevez, as we know, has been in Buenos Aires since November, accumulating a collection of fines that only serve as a reminder of his great accomplishments in his chosen field. It's as if he can say to every professional out there, maybe even to his team-mates, "I pay more in penalties than you earn in a year."
He continues to perplex. Last week, he denied giving an interview in which he described his situation at Manchester City as "very strange", becoming the latest in a long line of footballers who deny they said things which sounded perfectly reasonable and had the added benefit of being true. Tevez is in a very strange situation, a strangeness which is more pronounced because of his magnificence as a footballer.
His downfall is one of football's great mysteries. It can't be written off, as Graeme Souness tried to do, as an example of "all that is wrong with the modern footballer".
Souness appears in such a perpetual state of disgust with the modern footballer that he sometimes seems capable of reacting to a foul throw with venom. Like all those who insist that modern life is rubbish, he is suffering from a failure of imagination. Tevez isn't the epitome of all that is wrong with the modern footballer, any more than he reveals his character on the football field.
There are those who will tell you, falling back on one of football's favourite euphemisms, that he has been 'badly advised'. He has certainly been spectacularly advised by Kia Joorabchian, a man of such unstoppable ambition that he has his own adviser, a move which separates him from the masses of advisers who have to make do with advising themselves.
By employing somebody else to do it, Joorabchian is announcing that he, too, is the talent. He's not just there to pay Nedum Onuoha's gas bill.
As talent, he is more mercurial than your typical adviser, who would be expected to guide his client stolidly through the swamps of top-level football.
Joorabchian clearly takes a different approach to advice. It cannot be said to be tremendously successful or sage but it is, at least, noteworthy.
Tevez now stands at the crossroads. Football might not even be his game. A friend of mine, one of Irish golf's foremost intellectuals, studied footage of Tevez on one of the Argentinian tracks he has retreated to in recent times. Tevez's golf swing is, he says, also a thing of beauty. "He could tee it up tomorrow morning on the European Tour . . . if he could be arsed."
Tragically, Tevez can't be arsed. He is, in the face of stiff competition, the poster boy for the Can't Be Arsed movement, which has a growing membership.
Tevez is the main man, though, the one they can only aspire to be because he lives a paradox. Never has there been a player who seemed more arsed on the field and less arsed off it. The player who had "become very fond of a massage" still manages to play with the ferocity picked up on the streets.
Manchester City, too, have to make a choice. They can keep collecting the fines, whittling away at their debt and thanking him for his contribution to their attempts to meet UEFA's financial fair play or they can, as Mancini suggested on Friday, take a gamble.
The reality is that Manchester City need the humanitarian Tevez now. They are a team that look like they have shrunk. They rely less on the sweeping moves of Aguero and Silva and more on the soul-sapping industry of Barry and Milner. They, too, seem to be revealing their character with their workrate and their curious first touch-lunge hybrid.
Barry and Milner remind me of the nine team-mates of Roy Race and Blackie Gray at Melchester Rovers. They were faceless yeomen. Stout, honest, barrel-chested Englishmen.
Football, like a comic strip, needs more, it needs life and colour. City need Tevez now. There is no point either side continuing on this mutually assured destruction. Mancini is an outstanding manager, a man of principle and steel. He must forget the moral hazard that would come with summoning Tevez back. City could do with him and Tevez can show them that he cares. It's a question of character.
Sunday Indo Sport