How Carlos Tevez shone brightly at Man Utd before burning his bridges
As you stalk the halls of Castle Old Trafford’s long-forgotten library, you will find books upon books telling the mythical tales of heroes.
Donned in red, they fought the giants of England and Europe and almost always returned victorious, silver and gold in hand.
Some books are covered in dust and cobwebs untouched for decades and somewhat forgotten, but no less loved than the clean and shiny tales of King Cantona, the great artist Paul Scholes and the long record of Wayne Rooney’s goals.
But off to the far corner of the room, where the dim candlelight does not reach, you can find a few books lazily cast aside on a rickety shelf.
Above it, there is a sign that reads “forbidden”, for here are the tales of heroes whom no one dares mention anymore.
These are the fallen angels, the traitors, and the conspirators who turned on their club.
You open one of the tomes up, the book’s spine creaking as you do so, and there, written in gold, is a name you have not seen in a long time: Carlos Tevez.
Like all good stories, we must start at the beginning, but this is not a typical Manchester United tale where the hero emerges as a young academy boy; Tevez began, just as he ended his time at United, as a villain.
The shaggy-haired Argentine first waltzed up to Old Trafford with West Ham for the last game of the 2006-07 season.
Firing under Edwin van der Sar to keep West Ham in the Premier League, Tevez dulled Old Trafford’s title festivities by submitting them to a rare loss on the final day.
13 years ago today Carlos Tevez did this at Old Trafford.
West Ham stayed up, Manchester United lifted the title, and the fax machine started whirring at Bramall Lane.
— A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) May 13, 2020
It was a goal that sparked controversy and ended with the Hammers in the courts over his signing, but Manchester United, who were never exactly the good guys themselves, were more than happy to step into the chaos and pluck Tevez from the resulting storm.
On a two-year loan from whoever it was that actually owned Tevez’s economic rights, United added the Argentine to their attacking arsenal and it took but a matter of minutes for him to settle in.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the mythical God-emperor of Manchester United’s kingdom, identified Tevez as the missing piece of his army and placed him front and centre, alongside his most trusted generals.
Together with the battle-hardened mercenary Wayne Rooney and the skill-weaving trickster Cristiano Ronaldo, Tevez helped form the most frightening front three football had perhaps ever seen.
His first goal came against Chelsea, one of United’s great enemies.
It was a powerful diving header that opened the scoring and showed that Tevez’s ability was not just a run of good form at the end of the previous season.
Even then Tevez’s future was a topic of debate.
“There is no question about his long-term future here,” Ferguson said in November 2007.
“The fee is in place. I won’t tell you what it is but it is still cheap. I want to make this happen, he has impressed everyone with his appetite for the game.
“He’ll get me 15 goals this season and what’s more, they’ll be important goals.”
He actually got 19.
— Premier League (@premierleague) June 21, 2019
While revisionist history may now focus on the contribution of his two fellow strike partners, Tevez was as crucial a part of the attack as Rooney and Ronaldo.
Most of his goals came through combination play, the front three constantly dynamic and switching play between themselves or swapping positions at a whim.
Often Tevez acted as an anchor in the box which allowed the other two to act freely, knowing that Tevez was always there, waiting to poach.
When a wayward shot came his direction or a ball rebounded in an unexpected direction Tevez was there, even once latching upon a loose Rooney effort to slay the Liver birds of Anfield with the only goal of the game in December.
For United, such an act deserves to be sung about in pubs for decades to come with the lucky few in the away end that day sharing increasingly far-fetched stories about the day Tevez silenced the Anfield crowd.
But not for Tevez.
Domestically he helped United to the Premier League title with 14 goals, including vital late ones against Spurs and Blackburn without which the club would not have retained the trophy.
— UnitedReds (@UnitedRedscom) April 19, 2020
His ability to pop up unannounced in the box made him the perfect compliment to the much louder efforts of Rooney and Ronaldo.
There was nothing quiet about his penalty in the Champions League final, however, stepping up first with a powerful run-up that sent Petr Cech the wrong way before placing it in the bottom corner.
By the end of the night, he would get his hands on European football’s biggest prize for the first and only time of his career.
He was a true Manchester United hero in his first season, but by the end of the next he was public enemy number one.
Fall from grace
As the 2008-09 season dragged on, uncomfortable questions about the future of Tevez began to crop up.
What had happened to the supposed permanent deal Ferguson had previously mentioned? What would happen at the end of his ‘loan’?
Amongst all the outside noise, behind the scenes trouble began brewing. Dimitar Berbatov had signed in the summer and Tevez’s starting place became less and less guaranteed.
Tevez became dissatisfied. Negotiations between himself and United stalled several times and soon shut down altogether.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 13, 2020
His performances on the pitch did not falter and he got his hands on the Premier League once more but by the end of the season, Tevez had mentally checked out of Old Trafford and closed the door behind him.
He left amid a cloud of mystery, United fans distraught that Fergie had seemingly dismissed the chance to sign one of England’s best attackers.
But sadness turned to anger when Tevez emerged from the mist in sky blue.
Such betrayal the club had not felt in a long time.
This was not a washed-up Peter Schmeichel coming out of retirement to join City but a brilliant player in his prime opting to swap red for blue, an insult unheard of in the modern age.
The narrative quickly became that he was all about the money, that he was never that good anyway and was carried by Rooney and Ronaldo.
Work began eradicating his United legacy, removing his name from the record and binning any shirts with the number 32 on the back.
Ferguson himself joined in, declaring that Tevez was not worth the money the club were definitely not going to spend on him just months prior.
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Tevez, for his part, gleefully embraced his cartoonish villain role and excelled at City.
With his success at United struck from the records, his time at City is seen as much more successful, and yet in truth his biggest achievement still came at United for nothing could top that 2007-08 season.
He was a vital part of Fergie’s last Champions League-winning side and without him arguably one of the best front threes in footballing history would not have existed.
But you better whisper such heathenish opinions quietly. You might find yourself silenced for holding them.
By Patrick Ryan