Rich, of Penguin United, has mused over Carlos Tevez’s future.
Carlos Tevez has to go, it’s as simple as that. For all the chants of “Fergie, sign him up”, for all the protestations of love for United, for all the good and crucial goals he has scored, for all the gut-busting charges around the Old Trafford pitch – he has to go. The fans should not only request it, but demand it.
There are two clear reasons for this. Firstly, he is not and never will be good enough to be in United’s first eleven, for reasons I will explain below. Second, he will never be happy being a squad player. Take both of these together, and Kia Joorobchian’s £32m valuation – the most frequently cited reason for United’s reluctance to sign him up – becomes irrelevant.
Not first team material
Let me deal with my more controversial point first. Tevez is a jack-of-all-trades, but he will never be good enough in any single position to hold down a spot in our best eleven. He is a (very) rich man’s John O’Shea, and a poor man’s Wayne Rooney. He is a very good player, but not a world class player.
He has proved beyond doubt, again and again that he cannot lead the line. There are two fundamental reasons for this. Firstly, he does not have the pace to get in behind any defence. Watch for balls slipped between defenders for him – he will rarely get there first, and when he does it will only be because he has put his body between man and ball in such a way that he has to turn backwards to retain possession. Second, he does not find space between and in behind defenders to receive the ball – he tends to find space in front of defenders by pulling off them to receive the ball, but too often his relish for physical combat allows defenders to stay “touch-tight” to him. This rules out a whole dimension of danger for the opposition, and makes their job a lot easier when it comes to snuffing out our attacking threat.
Contrast this to Rooney when he is asked to play up top (as with Tevez, not his favoured role). He can do everything Tevez does in that position, but he can get in behind and he can pull defenders around in a way that disorientates good defences and creates space for others. When a ball is played in behind for Rooney, he often gets there first and is able to play his first touch across the defender in such a way that the defender is taken out of play unless he decides to being Rooney down. He is also better at finding the gaps between centre halfs to receive threaded passes from the likes of Carrick, Scholes and Giggs. The threat of his pace and his elusiveness make him an entirely different proposition to defend against.
With Berbatov and Rooney
This lack of ability to play up top is precisely why Tevez has been starved of opportunities to partner Berbatov this season. Berba is not an out and out front man, constantly on the last shoulder – he sometimes plays up with the centre halves, and sometimes drops off. When Berba plays with Rooney, they tend to alternate so that if Berba drops off Rooney is pushed further up and vice versa. With Tevez, on the other hand, if Berba drops off Tevez stays put in his natural habitat, leaving us to rely on the wingers or the midfield to push into the centre forward position. Rooney has a lot of similarities with both Berba and Tevez, but he works best with Berba because they can mix and match their roles at will. When either plays with Tevez, they lose that flexibility and therefore their natural game is curtailed.
In the hole
Even when dropped deep, Tevez suffers in comparison to Rooney. They can both shoot well from distance, they can both arrive late into the box, they both participate well in cute passing moves in and around the opposition box. But again, Tevez lacks two aspects of the game that can turn a good “support striker” (if you’ll forgive the use of such an un-English term) into a world class one. First, the ability to create your own space by beating people – whilst Tevez is capable of beating a man, his lack of pace means that his man (particularly full-backs) can catch up with him again. Second, the instinctive distribution which can split or stretch a defence – you don’t see Tevez playing through balls or cross-field passes, but rather taking a couple of touches and laying it into the path of a supporting runner. In counter-attacking situations, he doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly enough, and doesn’t make up for that with the perceptiveness of his pass.
A team player, but not a squad player
Taking into account all of the above, you’re left with a player whose ceiling is “very good” rather than “world class”. We’d still be happy to have him in our squad, because he rarely turns in a bad performance (just rarely great ones). He has the ability to score crucial goals, and his energy can have a very positive effect on the whole side when he comes off the bench. Earlier in the season, the debate was about whether he was worth the amount of money being asked for him. My own view was that he wasn’t (the above analysis of his play is not something I’ve come up with in the last couple of days, but one based on observations from the whole season – particularly the early part when we really needed him to step up), but I could understand why some people took the opposite view.
What has become increasingly clear, in the last few weeks, is that he is not happy being a reserve. He is not prepared to make the trade off which so many recent United stars (Ole, Sheringham, Fletcher, O’Shea, Brown, Park to name but a few) were prepared to make – not playing every week in exchange for being part of the best club in the world and the accompanying silverware. That’s his call, and I don’t criticise him for it, and nor do I imply in any way that he hasn’t given it 100% every time he has stepped on the pitch for us. But if that’s how he feels, then his asking price is irrelevant because there is no place for him at United.
Looking back on it, I think that was the main reason for United not offering a deal until the end of the season – because they needed to know whether Tevez could be happy as a squad player. We got the answer, and so with our warmest thanks and best wishes, it has to be goodbye to Carlitos.