Failing Tevez test might not be a bad result for Mancini
Carlos Tevez's behaviour at Manchester City is part of a pattern, says Paul Wilson
R oberto Mancini celebrates a year in charge of Manchester City this weekend, a year when it must have frequently occurred to him that had he known what he was letting himself in for at Eastlands, he might have decided that waiting for another chance to manage a normal club in his native land was not such a bad position to be in after all.
Not that the Italian has done badly. At this point last year, when Mark Hughes was being untidily removed for making insufficiently swift progress, City and their supporters would have gladly accepted a promise of going into the following Christmas in the top three, a point above Chelsea and within a single good result of the leaders.
While one could be picky and say City's elevation has more to do with Chelsea's loss of form and Manchester United's unusually high number of draws, Mancini has undeniably brought about an improvement. After the same 17 league games that Hughes was allowed last season, Mancini has won nine to his predecessor's seven, and drawn five instead of eight. He has lost one more game, true, but City have still not lost as often as Arsenal or Chelsea. Most importantly, Mancini never supervised a deflating sequence of seven straight draws, seeing his side held by such luminaries as Burnley, Hull City and Wigan Athletic, which was what led to confidence in Hughes draining away.
So the manager, at least, has cause for celebration. He is not the problem; he just has to deal with the problem. The problem being that events of the last few weeks have made it appear Alex Ferguson may have been right all along. Carlos Tevez is a more than useful player whom no one would mind having at their club. But he is not worth buying at any price. In fact, he can be trouble at any price, and any price is what the Argentinian and his adviser/erstwhile owner will charge.
There will be City fans even now objecting to this interpretation of the situation -- pointing out that United eventually offered Tevez a five-year contract and his owners the full buyout fee of £25m -- though possibly not as many as there would once have been.
There seems little point in maintaining the fiction that the striker snubbed United in order to play for City when your captain, top scorer and poster boy has just said he no longer wishes to play for you, either. Mancini must have been indulging his penchant for wry humour when he went into the Tevez summit saying the same thing could happen anywhere. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Either because of the high prices being quoted (the deal that took Tevez to City was eventually estimated at £47m) or the unusual and contentious nature of his ownership, Ferguson never felt convinced he ought to move heaven and earth to keep a player who was mostly being used as an impact substitute.
Tevez, like Dimitar Berbatov, was not given a place in the starting line-up for the 2009 Champions League final. He managed only five league goals in his final season at United, and Ferguson initially felt he was being asked to pay over the odds. To oversimplify slightly, United were looking to lessen the outlay and negotiations were dragging on when Tevez and his people became aware that Manchester contained a club who would pay over the odds. And guarantee Tevez a starting place, and push the boat out in every way possible.
This would have been when Kia Joorabchian and Garry Cook were the firmest of friends, and whatever promises that have since come to be broken would have been made. This is the situation Mancini inherited. The most madly expensive footballing makeover in history centred on a serial malcontent.
Here is the Boca Juniors vice-president Pedro Pompilio in December 2004, on realising that Tevez and his new advisers/owners, Joorabchian's MSI group, were not going to hang about. "He wants to go, and he doesn't want to wait until June," Pompilio said. "What saddens us, and at the same time annoys us a bit, is that our best player should have played such a short time at the club."
Broadly speaking, that has been a template for the rest of Tevez's club career. He ended up refusing to play for Corinthians, stormed out of Upton Park on being substituted, forced a tardy Premier League to tighten up rules on third-party ownership, bitterly resented being benched at United following the arrival of Berbatov and is now unhappy at City when he ought to be in the form of his life.
Modern football, eh? Suddenly one understands why Mancini brought Mario Balotelli along from Italy, to help restore calmness and tranquillity. All this story needs now is for Craig Bellamy to be recalled as a peacemaker. Everything Mancini has achieved at City is being measured against whether he passes the Tevez test, when in fact no manager has ever passed the Tevez test. Even Ferguson could only claim a draw, yet the United manager understood one crucial point. Tevez is not quite as good as everyone makes out. Yes, he can score fantastic goals, as he did for Argentina last summer at the World Cup. And yes, 33 in 50 games for City is some going, even if he is in the privileged position of appearing regularly in front of some of the best players in Europe. But Tevez misses a lot too. Though usually in the right place, his composure can let him down, and with a lack of precision comes a wastage rate.
Tevez is an energetic worker but not a clinical finisher, so not as irreplaceable as, say, a fully functioning Fernando Torres or Didier Drogba. City could find someone in the shape of Luis Suarez or Edin Dzeko to do a similar job. While such a player would not come with the added advantage of having walked out on United, the great lesson one learns in life is that some things actually are too good to be true.