This post was guest-blogged by Matt Statto. Follow him on Twitter (@ilstatto)
The transfer window is yet to open, but the rumours are well and truly into overdrive. Juventus’ hot pursuit of a brand-new ‘top’ striker has been at the forefront of the sports pages, both in Italy and abroad. With every day that passes, a new favourite for the Bianconeri enters and the flirtatious courting of Europe’s best is well and truly in motion. They have been – and still continuously are – linked with Fiorentina’s talisman Stevan Jovetic and the out of favour, but exceptionally prolific, Real Madrid frontman Gonzalo Higuain. Thoughts from the Juve hierarchy appear to have turned to another Argentinean forward and a man who very much likes to divide public opinion – Carlos Tevez.
The story has been one mooted for a prolonged period of time. Not happy with life in Manchester, he is frustrated with the English culture and his personality differences with the recently sacked Roberto Mancini. Tevez departed on a self-imposed exile following a furious –and highly controversial – touchline bust up with Mancini during a Champions League away tie at the Allianz Arena, home of German giants Bayern Munich.
Publicly, he was looking for a move closer to his home and family in Buenos Aires. More likely however, were that Tevez’s frustrations left him wanting to move anywhere, providing they’d be able to match his more than hefty wage-packet and satisfy his ‘advisor’ and close personal friend, Kia Joorabchian. During this time – and despite an excellent start to the 2011-12 campaign – Juve’ lack of goals from their forwards was proving to be a hot topic amongst those observing the Bianconeri. Goals from midfield were plentiful and everything seemed to be kicking into gear nicely, however there was something missing. A spark, someone who could consistently create something out of nothing and the grumbles about the lack of a quality striker began.
The nature of Tevez’s exile meant there was potentially a twenty goal a season forward on the market and naturally, the media were quick to put two and two together, heavily linking Juventus with a move for the fiery front man. Questions were rapidly pressed to the club’s Director General Beppe Marotta and he was quick to praise the forward’s qualities, but equally swift to pour cold water on the fire burning in the media.
“Tevez is an excellent player, I am hardly the first to say that, but we have had no contact with Manchester City or his agents,” Marotta told Sky Sport Italia. He went on to state “Juventus are not interested in Tevez. I can categorically rule out negotiations for a January move.” True to his word, the Turin club did not pursue Carlos Tevez and instead decided to keep faith in those who had got them to the position they were in, towards the very top of the Serie A table. The decision was the correct one, with Juventus winning the Scudetto following a sensation stretch of form from Montenegrin Mirko Vucinic.
Fast forward a period of 18 months in which Juventus won yet another Scudetto crown and the Argentinean striker returned from his golfing expedition and once again became a leading player for Manchester City. Now once more we have those very same rumours once again, however this time these links have not been denied in the way they were in the closing months of 2011. For these rumours have been gathering pace, initially starting out as a tentative link based on the player’s hesitation to renew his contract.
However Juventus’ need to add another centre-piece to their front line, have led to the odds on Tevez to Juventus being significantly reduced. A number of leading media outlets are reporting an agreement has been made between the player, his advisor and Juventus. Only leaving Juventus to negotiate a price for the 29 year old hit man.
If indeed this rumour should bear fruit and the former Manchester United man brings his energetic and persistent style of play to Turin. The most important factor will be just how he fits in with Conte’s team of humble, down to earth and hard-working individuals, which have unquestionably been the top team in Italy over the past two seasons.
Antonio Conte’s a coach who’s known for favouring hard-working players, possessing similar qualities to his own from this time as a player with the club. Tevez has always been known for being a player who leaves everything on the pitch. He lives and dies by what Juventini would call ‘grinta’. However, the player has always possessed a differing attitude when it comes to the 90 minute war of a football match and the preparation of training throughout the week.
On the pitch you know what you’re going to get from the man known to most as ‘Carlitos’. 90 minutes of non-stop pressing, harrying and battling. Mixed in with a great dose of technical and creative quality. What’s not to like? His determination on the field is something which has made him an icon in his homeland, preferred even to the great Lionel Messi by his adoring countrymen.
For a player who’s game relies on intensity and aggression. Tevez has maintained a surprisingly composed nature on the field since his arrival in Europe just under 7 years ago. Rarely lacking in discipline and even when those around him have seen the red mist, he has remained calm and let his football do the talking. Admirable qualities.
On the training ground, we see a different Tevez. The former West Ham United man has never enjoyed this aspect of being a professional footballer. The intensity of putting in the hard yards of strength and conditioning hasn’t come naturally to him and from the very beginning, he and Mancini never saw eye to eye when it came to what was being conducted on the training field.
A transition from the laid-back and expressive (undisciplined?) training methods of Mark Hughes, to Roberto Mancini’s drill-sergeant coaching techniques proved to be a huge shock to Carlos. Grumblings of discontent from the forward made their way to the press within the opening months of the Italian’s City reign. The Argentinean talisman bemoaning the double length training sessions his Italian coach had bestowed upon the side. With Mancini intent on improving the fitness levels he felt were lacking under his predecessor. Whilst only one of many factors in the breakdown of their relationship, the disagreement certainly contributed to an uneasy tension between the outspoken pair.
Over time, Tevez and Mancini came to a mutual understanding, with both men realising a compromise was needed to achieve the goals that were expected of them. This rung especially true given he was – at this time – Manchester City’s best player and the man from Fuerte Apache was playing the best football of his career. Under the Italian coach’s stewardship, he was able to make the transition from an inconsistent creator, to a player capable of spearheading his side as a prolific and effective lone striker. However the tension between the duo still lingered, never fully recovering from their early disagreements.
What would Antonio Conte make of this attitude? The intense nature of his training sessions have become a crucial feature which has built the foundations for the Juventus we see today. Would Tevez be able to adapt and change his approach? It’s a provoking question.
The previous season saw a lack of tactical versatility from Conte’s Juventus, largely caused by the lack of options which made it unfeasible to suggest a change from the 3-5-2. It’s common knowledge the Old Lady will be looking to increase these options, but the main focus is on upgrading the strike-force, who have been unable to reach the goal-scoring levels expected from an elite side over the course of the previous two seasons. Carlos Tevez would immediately increase the quality of the team, adding a renewed goal threat, but also the spark, the magic which had been lost at times during 2012/13.
A more ponderous situation arises when you consider a formation shift away from the 3-5-2 to something which incorporates wide players and one option would be a 4-2-3-1, similar to the way Manchester City have lined up under Mancini. But Conte has never been remotely keen on a traditional number 10 working between the lines, and has either preferred to use two strikers or wingers with a three man midfield, making the 4-3-3 the most viable alternative.
Of course we know Tevez has the capability to play as the number 9 in this system. However, with Fernando Llorente already signed and rumours of Gonzalo Higuain gathering an equal amount of pace, it suggests this role may already be taken. Carlitos, despite his technical qualities and diminutive style, has never truly fit into a 4-3-3 as a winger, often compromising both his own game and indeed the team’s structure when playing this role.
For Manchester United, Tevez rotated around a front three which involved himself, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Whilst the Argentinean was loved by the fans for his work rate and battling qualities, he never really delivered. Nor did he show anything like the quality he displayed when he crossed the divide to become the spearhead for rivals Manchester City.
It was a similar situation for Argentina, where he has proven to be a tactical problem rather than solution for a number of coaches of the Albiceleste. Pressured by the adoring fans into selecting Carlitos above all logic, a number of men have tried to incorporate Tevez into a line-up with the likes of Higuain, Messi, Di Maria and co, starting with Maradona during the 2010 World Cup. Sergio Batista also failed during the highly disappointing 2011 Copa America campaign, where the coach had the Boca Juniors youth product playing in a resoundingly unsuccessful wing role, if for nothing else but to appease the nation.
Nothing positive came of this and those who understood the game came to a quick conclusion that Tevez out wide could not work and he was rapidly replaced. A number of men – including ex-Napoli forward Ezequiel Lavezzi – performed better alongside Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain and that appears to have signalled the end of Carlitos’ Argentina career, no matter how unpopular a decision it was for his adoring following in his homeland.
Despite his inabilities on the wing, Tevez is very much a player with a great deal to offer. The Manchester City man’s 2012/13 season wasn’t as prolific as he had been prior to his exile, but he found his role in the team had changed and with it, was able to make a difference as a supporting striker. Most Manchester City supporters would agree when I say Tevez was their best and most consistent forward throughout the previous season. Rather than being entrusted as the lone striker in a counter-attacking system, Carlos was often used behind Sergio Agüero or Edin Dzeko, playing in a deeper, more creative role.
Those who hadn’t carefully observed him during this most recent campaign would see a player whose goal scoring record had deteriorated and therefore believe his influence was waning. Inspect closer and you see Tevez was still able to score 17 goals, whilst assisting 10 in all competitions throughout the year. For a player who supposedly had a poor season, these numbers still eclipse those of his Juventus counterparts and this from a player who played near enough in an attacking midfield role for the majority of the season.
With a linkup just behind Fernando Llorente an option in a 3-5-2, Juventini should have their appetite watering at the chaos this duo would cause defences across Italy and Europe. The onus would be on both the player to adapt and indeed the coach Antonio Conte to create a structure which would allow the team and Carlos Tevez to thrive. That is the most intriguing part of all.