Manchester derbies are normally full-blooded affairs, but the League Cup semi-final of January 2010 contained extra spice thanks to the antics of Carlos Tevez and Gary Neville.
The bad blood began when united legend Neville said in a newspaper interview ahead of the first leg that Sir Alex Ferguson had been right not to sign Tevez the previous summer, indicating that he was not worth the £25million that Manchester City paid.
But the origin of such bitterness among some United players was complex. They suspected that Tevez initiated a lucrative move across Manchester while posing as an unloved kitten that’s been kicked to the kerb by its owner.
“He’s been disappointed at the way he’s been treated,” said Kia Joorabchian, the head of his entourage.
Then there was those banners. In their newly-monied irritant phase, City approved the erection of blue-clad ‘Welcome to Manchester’ banners across the city, adorned by Tevez’s mug.
Ferguson infamously labelled City as ‘noisy neighbours’. The fans of both clubs spoke about little else. Further fuel was added to the fire after United scored an injury-time goal to steal a 4-3 win in the first derby of the 2009-10 season.
Little wonder, when the two sides were drawn against each other in the League Cup semis, that the Greater Manchester Police began to chew their fingernails nervously.
It was perhaps inevitable that Tevez would score twice as City claimed a 2-1 victory, but everybody was left talking about the Argentinian’s celebration for his first strike.
After manically wheeling away, Tevez signalled to substitute Neville that he talks too much. The United legend responded with a one-finger salute.
But the real fireworks were still to come. After presumably enjoying a cocktail of Red Bull and Smarties, Tevez let rip in a post-match interview in his native Argentina.
“My celebration was directed at Gary Neville,” he said with refreshing honesty.
“He acted like a complete boot-licker when he said I wasn’t worth £25million just to suck up to the manager. I don’t know what the hell that idiot is talking about me for. I never said anything about him.
“I will never show a lack of respect towards anyone. Just as I was running off to celebrate the penalty I had scored, I came across Gary and I said to myself: ‘Shut your trap, keep quiet’.
“I didn’t go overboard in my celebration and it was directed at Gary, not at Ferguson and not at the fans. I think he did the wrong thing because I was his team-mate and I never said anything bad about him.
“He was saying that Ferguson was right when he said that I wasn’t worth £25million, when he was saying this and that. I always respected Neville.”
Tevez, despite playing in England for seven years, spoke little of the native tongue, but he said he saw Neville’s comments in the newspapers on the day of the game.
“I was at lunch with the players in the team hotel and all the papers were laid out. I read them – well, ‘read them’, obviously I don’t read English.
“My team-mates were telling me about it and asking what I thought. And I wondered to myself: ‘What’s the moron talking about me for when I never said anything about him, when there was never any issue with us.
“It was a lack of respect for a fellow player, apart from the fact that we had won a lot of things together.”
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Ferguson, breaking the habit of a lifetime, refused to get involved. “I’m not interested,” the United boss said when asked about Tevez. “He’s not our player any more.”
The FA took a dimmer view, contacted their clubs to pass on a final warning to the pair. Security was ramped up before the return match at Old Trafford, which saw United win 3-1 to reach the Wembley final.
Incredibly, the saga was dredged up again 10 years later as Neville and Joorabchian clashed over the former’s claim that Tevez ‘downed tools’ in his second season at United.
Desperate for content in the middle of lockdown, Sky Sports engineered a showdown between the pair. As both parties raked over old ground with rarely-sighted relish, Jamie Carragher grabbed a bag of toffee popcorn and enjoyed the show.
We were all Carragher in that moment. We were all Carragher throughout the entire duration of the ‘boot-licker’ affair.
By Michael Lee