Almost a full footballing lifetime later, in which a tenacious teenager from Fuerte Apache has grown into the decorated statesman he is today, the favorite son of La Bombonera was welcomed home in January. As a finale to a magnificent career, Carlos Tévez is back for a third – and most likely, conclusive – stint at his beloved Boca Juniors.
In his pomp he conquered Europe with aplomb from 2007 to 2015, amassing double figure trophies at both the club and individual levels. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for ‘Carlitos’ though, at times very difficult. Nonetheless, somewhat inevitably, a wanderer has returned.
Upon his arrival to England in 2005, the rugged center forward from Argentina caught the eye instantly. This was the platform from which Tévez propelled himself to superstardom on the field.
Against a backdrop of curious excitement surrounding third party ownership (borne of Tévez’s bumper move from Boca to Corinthians), Tévez and compatriot Javier Mascherano joined West Ham in August 2006. This novelty of players not being owned by their clubs caused quite the stir at English football’s top table.
Amidst the fanfare though, quietly and industriously going about his work was Tévez. His graft and adeptness to get under the skin of his opponents was endearing to Hammers’ fans. Running and running, riling and riling, Tévez had end-product too. None more so than the last day of that season, and his parting gift.
A most improbable of final day turnarounds required, West Ham would only survive the drop if they won at Old Trafford, the home of already crowned champions Manchester United. Even then, they were also counting on Sheffield United to lose at home to fellow relegation fodder, Wigan Athletic.
The stuff that dreams are made of, a famous 1-0 victory courtesy of a Tévez goal was rewarded by Wigan also clinging on to win on the road. The Hammers saved; Tévez forever a cult hero.
As fate would have it, five years later to the day, on May 13th, 2012, Tévez was again triumphant in Manchester at the season’s very last knockings. Unquestionably the Premier League’s most dramatic climax to date. When Tévez’s strike partner and fellow Argentine, Sergio Agüero smashed home a 94th minute winner against QPR the pendulum swung decisively from red to the blue side of the city.
A first ever Premier League title for Manchester City, at their neighbors’ expense, this was a landmark third winner’s medal for Tévez. Having won consecutive titles already with United, he made history as the first – and remains the only – player to lift the trophy for both Manchester teams.
Alongside a Champions League and World Club Cup, his two seasons in United colors yielded great success. Having subsequently scooped an FA Cup and the Premier League Golden Boot during the ’10/’11 season with City, Tévez concluded his six years in Manchester with a one-way Turin break in June 2013.
For all his plaudits in England however, this bulldozer had his moments of uncontrollable erraticism along the way. Under Mancini at Manchester City, for example, Tévez wore his Italian manager’s patience by flying back into Ezeiza at every possible opportunity. He cut a glum figure on an Argentine talk-show in June 2011 on one such occasion as he professed Manchester to be small, boring and have no restaurants. Vowing never to return, many an eyebrow was raised when Tévez reported back for training later that summer and remained with City for two more seasons.
His stay was peppered with frustrated petulance, not least sulking on the bench and refusing to come on against Bayern Munich in a Champions League game at the start of the following season. Descending to its most ignominious during last year’s ill-fated spell in China, homesickness and a longing for Buenos Aires has been the motif that trails Tévez whenever he steps off these shores. This is not unlike a certain other homegrown hero that bookended an illustrious career in the European leagues in Argentina, courting controversy throughout.
What of the comparisons with Diego Maradona then?
Most obviously perhaps, having made hay in Europe, like Riquelme before him, Tévez followed Maradona’s blueprint by returning to Boca. Another rough diamond everyman, a wrecking ball of emotion and mischief tempered by flair, a younger ‘Carlitos’ had evoked memories of Diego once upon a time.
Yet on the international stage, Tévez’s gilded double of Olympic Gold and competition Golden Boot in Athens 2004 proved a false dawn. Indeed, for reasons various Tévez has endured a love-hate relationship with the national setup ever since the triumph in Greece. Probably not without coincidence, despite a string of finals in the interim, this was the last time La Selección lifted any silverware.
During his two years with Juventus, Tévez made a domestic trophy haul of two Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italiana. Uncannily, this count mirrored that of Maradona during his much-feted time with Napoli. In the same way that Diego was revered by the Neapolitans, fans’ favorite ‘Carlitos’ won a host of individual awards in Italy that reflected his popularity every bit as much as his technical nous. Replenishing his place in the Serie A Team of the Season, as Juventus Player of the Season in 2015, Tévez rounded off these back-to-back feats by also winning the Serie A Footballer of the Year award that season. His work done in Europe, Tevez retreated to Argentina.
Driven by his desire to win the Argentina Superliga, he went one better by securing a cup double with his boyhood club just months after he had rejoined from Juventus. His annus mirabilis, 2015 saw Tévez become the first player to win two domestic doubles in the same calendar year. Twelve months later, in December 2016 it was poetic that Tévez netted a brace to defeat River Plate 4-2 in the Superclásico. Not only was this special because it was at rival stadium El Monumental, but it was also symbolic in marking the transition of Tévez from excitable boy to measured man.
Having scored a decisive late goal in the Copa Libertadores semi-final in June 2004, Tévez celebrated by dancing as a chicken in front of the River faithful. A retort leveled by Boca fans at their bitter rivals after an infamous collapse against Uruguayan side Peñarol in 1966, apparently the opportunity to mock the ‘gallinas’ on their home pitch was too good to pass up. This impudence proved costly though, and Tévez was promptly sent off for showing such heightened disrespect. He was certainly more dignified some twelve or so years later, his earlier indiscretion now swept under the carpet.
In the land of cunning viveza, where victory comes at all costs and tastes sweetest when undermining the opposition, such impishness is to be celebrated. In his role as irrepressible chicken, more plight than flight, Tévez was simply shining light on a dark art.
Conditioned by the football culture in which he grew up, this mischievous streak was very much an accepted, if not expected attribute here. Yes, his story of rags to riches through hard work and football is admirable and has all the hallmarks of a fairytale in these parts. What makes Tévez so relatable, and even charming, to the Argentine public though is his imperfection.
Just a fortnight after he had laid his Monumental ghost to rest, in a sensational twist Tévez headed to Shanghai Shenhua in exchange for megabucks. Although he reportedly became the highest paid footballer in the world, the less said the better about his stay in – and regular returns from – China in 2017. It was no surprise, given the recurring theme of homesickness, that the move didn’t work out.
During his extended residency in England, Tévez openly adopted a cavalier attitude towards learning the language. Two words he did pick up however were, ‘very difficult.’ A common refrain of his, signaling to prying English journalists that he either did not understand or could not be bothered to answer their questions, this tagline became synonymous with Tévez.
Symptomatic of a vacated comfort zone, Tevez’s obstinacy was received with great mirth in this empathetically blessed nation. By laughing at Tévez’s misadventures, Argentines were permitting themselves a moment to laugh at themselves too. Indeed, unlike everyone else, they were in on the joke. Headstrong as ever in his sacrifices, their very own home bird had flown the nest on the tacit understanding that he would one day return to where it all began. He simply had to.
As the World Cup circus rolls into town once more, a country begins to crank itself up to fever pitch for Russia 2018, praying for a flood to end the drought. Despite continuing to entertain, back in yellow and blue, this is probably one circus too many for our protagonist. No, if you need him this June and July you won’t have to look too far from here, one suspects.
Unable to end his love affair with this city, his making, his breaking, ‘Carlitos’ the wanderer has returned to Buenos Aires, like he always wanted.