Tevez is having his best season ever in Europe with 22 goals so far with Manchester City.
CARLOS TEVEZ EXCLUSIVE:
The Manchester City striker on football, family and foes…
EXCLUSIVE By Lee Clayton
Welcome to Manchester? Carlos Tevez was already there, swapping the red corner for the blue corner last summer. He had changed sides and the ‘noisy neighbours’ were making their joy known with an inflammatory poster.
It was brilliant marketing, a clever message that hit the spot. Sir Alex Ferguson, across the way, was not amused. Nor, fascinatingly, was Tevez.
‘I never understood the intention of that poster,’ he admits today. ‘What was the point? Tell me. Was it to welcome me to Manchester City, or was it to anger Manchester United? Nobody ever told me.
‘I’m indifferent towards it, but it is important you know I had nothing to do with the poster. I’d have preferred for it not to have been there. I have respect for all the clubs I used to play for. That was not showing respect, was it?’
Carlos Tevez plays like a man who doesn’t like an easy ride. He enjoys a tear-up, right? So let’s put him on the spot: You’ve played with Messi, Rooney and Ronaldo. Who gets to play alongside you in your dream team?
‘OK … let me think … Wayne Rooney is the best in the world. It was a privilege to play with him, I will always feel that way towards him. When we played together with Cristiano, the three of us, this was a great moment in my career.’
Rooney is better than Messi? ‘In his position, Rooney is the best. Messi is the No 1 in his position. He is too much, right now. The ball sticks to his feet, who can take it from him?’
But you can only pick one of them.
‘It’s my interview, I want to pick both of them. It’s my dream selection. OK, I play Rooney and Messi, with Tevez, of course. In a 4-3-3. We would score some goals together, eh?’
No Ronaldo? ‘Well, we can’t all play in the same team, can we?’
He is worried for Rooney and wonders if his old team-mate played with an injection against Bayern Munich in the Champions League second leg.
‘Like Fabregas and Rooney, I too would want to play for my team with an injury, but not with an injection. It creates a false health. I prefer to play without injections, then you can feel if the pain increases.’
Tevez watched Barcelona beat Arsenal 4-1 in the Champions League. ‘They pass, pass, pass, pass. How do you get the ball back? They are the No 1 team, for sure.’
Then he watched the last English team, United, go out to Bayern. Did he think he could have made a difference, after appearing in successive Champions League finals for them?
‘I didn’t think about what I could have done. I am a Manchester City player now. I just watched the game.’
He hopes to be back in the competition with his new employers next season.
This Saturday it’s City v United again. The team sponsored by Nike against the player who has been signed to promote their brand since he was 13.
He is now 26.
So it’s Tevez v United. Tevez v Ferguson. Possibly Tevez v Neville.
‘That was a passing moment with Gary,’ he says of their public spat during the Carling Cup semi-final, when the former team-mates exchanged insults and gestures. ‘It’s gone now, I don’t have a problem with Gary.’
And Ferguson? ‘Not for this interview,’ he says with a smile.
‘That poster didn’t show respect. I had nothing to do with it’
So what of this fixture, this Manchester clasico?
‘I love this game. It is special, different. There is an argument going on in my head about why I feel so strongly about it. I will try to explain. It is nothing to do with the spotlight being on me, I did not transfer from United to City for the controversy.
OK, I played for both teams, so I understand the feeling and the emotion from both supporters. City’s fans have been very good to me, very welcoming. Maybe that is why I feel this game.’
‘Feeling the game’ is a description he uses three times in the interview. He uses it to describe Craig Bellamy, his Manchester City team-mate.
‘Bellamy feels football. It gives me confidence when I see his name is on the City teamsheet. He’s a big player for this club. I like his attitude very much.’
And it’s there again, perhaps most surprisingly, when he talks about West Ham.
The last fixture of Manchester City’s season sees them travel to Upton Park and the least illustrious of the five clubs Tevez has represented.
A goal from the Argentine could take City into the Champions League and could yet push West Ham into the Championship, despite the upturn in their prospects at the weekend.
He has saved them from that fate once before, as everyone remembers because of the unusual nature of his transfer into English football.
Tevez’s views on that return to West Ham on May 9 are likely to provoke further debate.
‘It is unthinkable that I will score a goal that will send West Ham to relegation,’ he argues passionately.
‘Their supporters feel football; they are passionate, these people invested great support in me. I wish to play again for West Ham before I finish my career. I have some unfinished business there.
To score such a goal against them would change my history with them
‘When the game comes, I hope City have already secured fourth place and West Ham are safe. That is the best I hope for.’
In reality, West Ham is one of the easier fixtures for City in a challenging run-in. Tevez reels off the games, including United, Tottenham, Villa and Arsenal.
‘It will be hard for us to finish fourth. But we are in a strong position.
Where is the greatest danger to change the usual top four? ‘City is the danger.’
He then explains how he discovered such electrifying goalscoring form.
‘I am playing now as a free striker. This is my position. When I first joined Manchester City, I was not 100 per cent fit. Now I go on to the pitch and I am physically fit and mentally strong. I say to myself, “you have to win the game for City”. In my head, before the game, I think, “goals, goals, goals”. It’s 28 of them and still counting.
‘I am now playing in the position I played in Argentina and Brazil and in the last 10 games for West Ham. At Manchester United, I was asked to defend more. It was a different responsibility.’
City are growing, but he says it will take ‘one or two years to become a big club’. He asks for patience from the owners and admits he did not agree with the brutal sacking of Mark Hughes.
‘It is their club, their money,’ he says of the decision makers behind City’s rapid growth. ‘But you ask me if I thought it was the right decision and the answer is “no”.
‘I will play for any manager; I play for the shirt and must respect the right of the people who make decisions to change things, but a team does not form overnight. Mark should have been given more time. The decision was taken with too much haste. Did the directors think it through? You cannot invest so much and then sack the manager after five months! Look, Mark brought us all here. He is a great manager and he will get another big club, 100 per cent.’
Naturally this leads to Roberto Mancini, the current manager and the replacement for Hughes. Tevez scored two goals in his first 12 games this season and has scored 20 in his last 18, which suggests an improvement in his performances.
But though the striker remains happy to play for Mancini, Tevez says he has ‘not improved me as a player…I have played at the same level since I overcame my injury.’
More intriguingly, he questions why the former Inter Milan coach insists on double training sessions. ‘The players are not happy with this. We are at the end of a long season, we have big matches, we are tired but there are still double training sessions, morning and afternoon.
Then, the next day, we train for two hours. I do not understand. But, please, he is the coach and I am the player. He is in charge. I am OK with him.’
In the meantime, Tevez will not reveal the size of his transfer fee to City, reported to be anything between £25million and £40m. ‘That is confidential,’ he answers. ‘I won’t tell you, I can’t tell you.’ Right now, he’s playing like a £40m footballer.
Carlos Tevez, aged 21, arrives on a petrol station forecourt in Buenos Aires wearing flip-flops, agreeing to a transfer that will change his life.
The star striker for Boca Juniors meets Kia Joorabchian and signs a contract that will tie his future to an investment company who promise progress and adventure.
Tevez collects the Golden Boot for finishing top scorer as Argentina win gold at the 2004 Olympics and later becomes three times South American Footballer of the Year.
The transfer to Corinthians, moving across the South American divide, reveals he is not afraid of controversy.
It makes front-page news in his homeland and Nike produce an advert, fronted by Eric Cantona, who asks in English.
‘So where is the best football now, Argentina … or Brazil?’
Next, Joorabchian offers him the chance to play in England, where he is in negotiations for an aborted attempt to buy West Ham. Such deals are typical across Europe, but not here.
It leads to confusion and more controversy after West Ham mislead the Premier League.
Today, Tevez explains: ‘Look, I liked Kia’s ideas, I really believed in the project. But you need to know I have only ever been transferred where I wanted to go; I have never been influenced otherwise. Not by anyone.’
Even when Joorabchian said: ‘We are going to West Ham’, you didn’t think he was crazy? ‘No. I liked the idea of England. I was right to come here.’
Learning to play the guitar is a new project, although golf remains his favourite pastime. Tonight, his television is showing Tiger Woods in full swing. ‘You like lists? Here’s a list.
There are three sportsmen: Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Lionel Messi. They perform with excellence, like most of us could never dream of.
‘I’ve trained with Messi, I went to watch Federer live; I wanted to see if he could be so good. And he is that good! These men create history with their level of performances. It is sport at another level. They are like winning machines.’
A temperature-controlled wine cellar with bottles from floor to ceiling is still packed as neatly as when he moved in last July.
The numerous man of the match champagne magnums fill one side in the kitchen. It’s all wasted here; Tevez doesn’t drink alcohol, so they are a decoration of memories rather than a collection for an end-of-season rave-up, even if City do gatecrash the big league.
The games room of his modern rented house includes a tabletop electronic arcade and a pool table with a light blue baize, a number 32 drawn across the middle and the signature of his eldest daughter, known affectionately as Flopy.
A proud father, Tevez shows me
Florencia’s newly decorated bedroom beautifully hand-painted with Disney characters, while a giant Minnie Mouse guards the entrance to his own bedroom.
Flopy, five, resides in Argentina with his estranged partner, along with his new-born daughter, Katie, whose very English name was chosen by Flopy.
‘I live for my daughters. Everything I do is for them’
It was Katie’s traumatic premature birth which drew Tevez back to Argentina for a month earlier this season. He hands me a picture of a tiny bundle of flesh and tubes.
‘That’s how she was when I first saw her. Look. Seeing her like that…she’s helpless. I live for my daughters, everything I do, I do for them. They are back in Argentina and I miss them, but they are close always.
Look around the house and you can the pictures from Flopy. She decorated my house.’
He also remains close to his old friends in Fuerte Apache where he grew up. ‘My parents protected me from danger; they kept me away from the drug dealers. Since I was very small I dreamed of being a professional footballer, but I remember where I came from, always.
‘When I go back, I like to play football with my old friends. I am telling you, they are special footballers. You would be shocked at how good they are.’
Despite his distance from those he holds dear, he is refreshingly at home in England.
There is no yearning for a warmer climate. ‘The weather is not a problem. I’m used to it. I’m happy here. The music is not so good, though. Apart from Rihanna.’
Most of this interview is conducted in English. He says he feels ‘shy’ to speak the language.
‘Eventually, God puts you where you are meant to be. If you’re bad, it will end badly. If you are good, there is hope.’