by Jerrad Peters
I first saw Carlos Tevez play on June 16, 2006. He came on as a 59th minute substitution for Javier Saviola against Serbia and Montenegro in a World Cup group stage game and scored his side’s fifth goal of a 6-0 romp—one of my favourite matches of the tournament. I didn’t follow South American football at the time and had only learned about him from the bartender at the pub that served as my unofficial World Cup headquarters.
“You need to see this Tevez,” he said excitedly. I remember the conversation well, as I tend to do when the subject is a young footballer I’ve never seen.
Thankfully I did see him. Argentina’s 3-0 lead at halftime made sure of that, and manager Jose Pekerman handed a World Cup debut to Lionel Messi as well. (Messi rounded out the scoring in the 88th minute.) But it was Tevez who really caught my eye. Here was a stocky, bullish player with a natural ferocity and low centre of gravity who quite obviously was destined for the bright lights of a big European league. He looked naturally suited for England, which is exactly where he ended up five weeks later when he and Argentina teammate Javier Mascherano were unveiled at West Ham.
From there the strange saga of Carlos Tevez is well documented. The next five years would see West Ham fined for signing him illegally, his famous goal at Old Trafford that kept the Hammers in the Premier League, his two-year loan spell at Manchester United that yielded back-to-back titles and the Champions League, his move to Manchester City, his feuding with Roberto Mancini, his transfer request, the withdrawal of his transfer request, his threat to quit football outright, the FA Cup triumph with City, his re-stated desire to leave the club and, finally, his refusal to come off the bench as a substitute against Bayern Munich.
It’s an awful lot of mischief in just five years. And while the 27-year-old’s wacky chapter in English football looks to have come to an irreconcilable end, you get the feeling the story is far from over, at least while Kia Joorabchian continues as ghost writer.
The rags-to-riches tale of how Tevez rose from the hardscrabble neighbourhood of Fuerte Apache—the “Bronx of Buenos Aires”—to international superstardom is the sort of narrative that makes you a demigod in South America. Created as the Argentinean government shuffled the capital’s poor from project to project ahead of the 1978 World Cup, it was here that Tevez and his four siblings got their start, and by the time he was eight years old Carlos was traveling to Floresta to train with All Boys. A move to Boca Juniors came in 2001, and after making his debut for the club as a 16-year-old he went on to win successive South American Footballer of the Year awards.
That’s when Joorabchian showed up on the scene. The Iranian-born entrepreneur had recently founded Media Sports Investments (MSI) with partner Nojan Bedroud, and the group promptly bought a majority stake in Sao Paulo side Corinthians.
MSI’s business model was dodgy from the start. Based largely around third-party ownership of players, it would never have been allowed to operate in Europe; but in South America, where creative ways to keep players on the continent before maximizing their transfer value was, and is, a reality for most clubs, no one really thought twice about what was happening at Corinthians.
They did, however, question where the money was coming from. Was Roman Abramovich involved? What about Boris Berezovsky? As for Joorabchian himself, what were his plans for the club, and for the players he was luring there?
In January 2005, MSI made Tevez the most expensive transfer in South American football history when they signed him on a five-year contract from Boca for €15 million. A brief period of prosperity followed, and Tevez won another South American Footballer of the Year award while captaining Corinthians to the 2005 Brasileiro. The club seemed to do nicely at the bank as well with reported revenue gains of up to 500 per cent, although under the terms of their takeover deal MSI were able to pocket 51 per cent of all profits.
Then the police started poking their nose around. They had initially investigated MSI’s purchase of Corinthians in 2004, but finding nothing amiss temporarily shelved the file.
A year before arrest warrants were issued for Joorabchian, Bedroud and Berezovsky, Tevez and Mascherano—by now at Corinthians as well—had been transferred to West Ham. They hadn’t been sold, exactly, as the terms of the deal didn’t really call for much of a fee. Instead, they were essentially shifted from one location to another, like much of the money MSI had taken from Corinthians and moved offshore, sparking a money laundering investigation.
In late August Tevez went on strike at Corinthians. Joorabchian had resigned as MSI president two months before, although he had managed to retain a stake in both Tevez and Mascherano. Given the looming legal troubles, he was eager to move his assets abroad, but he still needed the players to demand transfers in order to force their moves. Tevez acquiesced on August 23. He was a West Ham player eight days later.
I think it’s important to remember how it was that Tevez moved to the Premier League in the first place. All of it is common knowledge by now, but it provides some valuable context when trying to figure out just what happened at Bayern Munich on Tuesday, why it happened and why Tevez’s behavior has always seemed inconsistent, if not shifty.
Carlos Tevez has never been just Carlos Tevez, the footballer. He’s the rugged-looking lad from Fuerte Apache who felt he had to sell out in order to advance his career. Or, in this case, sell himself. He’s the employee of a shady investor who quite literally owns him, whose main function is to generate transfer profit. Forget this nonsense about missing South America and wanting to be closer to his family. If Tevez had any say in the matter he would have quit Manchester long ago. But it’s not up to him.
My suspicions are that Joorabchian really felt he could get one last big payday out of Tevez last winter when the City captain requested a transfer. I also believe Joorabchian sifts a portion of Tevez’s salary for himself—an agreement probably reached back when he was dealing with a 19-year-old. Given the wages agreed when he moved his client to City from Manchester United, it follows that Joorabchian isn’t desperate enough to force another move unless a stunningly lucrative offer comes in.
Of course, that’s all changed now. Tevez’s refusal to come on as a substitute at Bayern Munich probably signals the end of his tenure not only at City, but also in the Premier League. His actions also give City the option to pursue a legal nullification of his contract, effectively making him a free agent. They would then have the right to sue for a portion of future transfer fees, something that no doubt wouldn’t make Joorabchian very happy.
I really wonder if what we’re seeing from Tevez is an intentional attempt to rid himself of his owner, to break the leash that’s been around his neck for nearly eight years. The big-money moves Joorabchian instigated at the beginning of his career might have helped line the pockets, but at what price? Now, lonely and genuinely unhappy with his situation, he lacks the control to determine the direction of his own life.
It’s a sad story, and one I fear could happen with Neymar. Never has a transfer been as anticipated as the one that will eventually bring the Brazilian starlet to Europe, and never have so many stakeholders been in for a piece of the pie. It’s scary, and could quite realistically deprive us of the fullness of Neymar’s talent. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but when third-party ownership is involved, the player’s interests—and abilities—never come first.
In researching this article I came across a Corinthians fan forum from 2004. Tevez had just made the transfer from Boca Juniors and folks were wondering what his involvement with the MSI group would mean in the years to come. One person made the following comment: “It’s all very fishy to me. One day it’s all going to end in tears.”
That day, I fear, has come.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer
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