Some players seek out controversy, some players have controversy thrust upon them. Then there is Carlos Tevez, who seems to fit into both categories.
Tevez “not naturally skilled” at public relations
Tevez’s latest batch of trouble has come in the shape of a very public bust up with Shanghai Shenhua chairman, Wu Xiaohui. The latter is unhappy with the Argentine player’s performance following his transfer from Boca Juniors. Tevez, who nets $41million a year at Shanghai, has scored only three times in thirteen appearances for Shenhua. A level of production his manager, Wu Jingui, attributes to a fitness and weight problem.
But Tevez’s most recent contribution to what is now a bubbling cauldron of resentment has widened the scope of the debate. Speaking to French broadcasters SFR Sport on September 20th, Tevez described Chinese players as “not naturally skilled like South American or European players… those players who learned football when they were kids.”
“They are not good,” he went on to say, “even in fifty years they will not be able to compete.”
Body of evidence
With a few short sentences, Tevez succeeded in turning a personal spat with his employer into something more profound. But does the striker have a point? After all, his comments come after some trying times for Chinese football; is the nation’s massive investment in the beautiful game a total waste of effort?
In September 2017, as the rest of the world was getting rightfully misty-eyed over Syria’s fairytale route into a World Cup playoff with Australia, legions of Chinese football fans were left scratching their heads in disbelief. It wasn’t supposed to be this way; years of investment in infrastructure and personnel, a renewed national interest in the game, a qualifying group containing Syria, Uzbekistan and Qatar, as well as nailed-on favourites Iran and South Korea. That playoff place was meant to be theirs.
Predictably bad to unpredictably worse
Only it wouldn’t turn out that way. China kicked off the second round of their qualifying campaign with a credible 3-2 loss in Korea. That was followed by an even more credible 0-0 draw with the Iranians in Shenyang. The PRC side were left feeling bruised but hopeful.
Losses to Uzbekistan and Syria, and a draw with Qatar soon torpedoed this. Even a stirring 1-0 victory over Korea in the return leg wasn’t enough to propel China towards their first World Cup since 2002. In the end, only Qatar prevented them from propping up the table.
Meanwhile, on the domestic stage, the Asian Football Confederation has demanded that the Chinese FA bring the spiralling debts incurred by their members into line. Thirteen of the eighteen Super League Clubs are burdened by unacceptable levels of debt under current AFC regulations. The AFC demanded that the CFA take action. If not, the league will be excluded from the next season’s Asian Champions League. That is a punishment that Chinese football simply cannot afford. The CFA duly complied. The same thirteen clubs now face suspension from the Super League unless major changes are made to their financial structure.
Super, but not yet Premier
For all the glitz, the glamour, the big money stadiums, the Axel Witsels, the Tim Cahills, the Oscars, and the growing fan base, football in China has a long way to go before it can reach the heights its directors expect.
So, is Carlos Tevez a visionary? Almost certainly not. Tevez’s comments are predictable, broad, and ill-considered, and the timing of them feels petulant. When former Chelsea midfielder Oscar described how he, Tevez, Elkeson and Hulk were on “another level” to the “very good” Chinese players who feature alongside them in the Super League, he was discussing the development of the Chinese league within a specific contextual framework. Specifically, that the Chinese Super League project involves bringing in experienced and celebrated foreign players to inspire and coach a new generation.
He was not simply writing off the next half century of Chinese footballing development.
Being Carlos Tevez
We’ve been here before with Tevez, of course. The player bowled into English football, alongside fellow highly-rated Argentine Javier Mascherano, in August 2006 amid a flurry of third party ownership controversy. He then proceeded to play fairly well in a weak West Ham side. Some sparkling performances in a Manchester United shirt followed. At least until Carlos decided enough was enough and walked out, despite being offered a five year contract.
He didn’t move far. In the summer of 2009, Tevez finally signed his five year contract, but on the blue side of Manchester. There, he continued his incredible form. But within a couple of years, the wheels had fallen off. Transfer requests were delivered and heated words were exchanged. Argentinian chat show hosts were told by Tevez that he would “not be going back to Manchester, not even on vacation”.
Tevez was on thin ice. When he refused to come off the bench during a Champions League clash at Bayern Munich in 2011, that was it; his City career was over.
Back to Boca?
This is a player for whom settling scores is important, and not necessarily on the pitch. While Tevez is certainly correct to say that there are considerable issues in Chinese football, the whole ugly affair has the feel of someone who has been slighted and wants to get the last word in. Where Tevez’s Chinese saga will go next remains to be seen. I wouldn’t bet against another journey back home to Boca in the not too distant future.
For now though, Tevez is a Shenhua player. Obviously he has issues with his employer and manager which need to be resolved. That would all be for the good of the club and for that of Tevez’s career. As Oscar has said, “Foreign players have a lot of responsibility in China”. Tevez would do well to heed to the Brazilian player’s words.