With China calling, will this be Carlos Tevez's last Superclasico?
Rumours of a move to Shanghai Shenhua have been given weight by the star’s doubts over his future, and all is not well either at the Bombonera or in his home nation
The second coming of Carlos Tevez at Boca Juniors was heralded as the beginning of a new golden era for the Argentine giants. As the striker gears up for another Superclasico duel with River Plate, however, the dream might end prematurely, with reports of a lucrative move to China threatening to end the dream after just 18 months.
Few transfers in recent Argentine history have received the fanfare that greeted Tevez’s return to Boca in July 2015. The likes of Juan Sebastian Veron, who came back to first love Estudiantes in 2006, and Racing’s Diego Milito – who made his own triumphant return in 2014 – were feted as heroes by their own supporters, but were less publicised by a media that prioritises the two Superclasico rivals over any other institution.
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River, meanwhile, have also seen their fair share of idols come back to the Monumental in recent years. But neither Ariel Ortega, nor Javier Saviola, Pablo Aimar nor Andres D’Alessandro managed to stump up quite the same enthusiasm as Tevez. The trip back across the Atlantic and to their boyhood clubs is a rite of passage for Argentine veterans at the end of their careers, and one that produces varying level of success.
But Tevez was different. Here was a man who had chosen to go back to the Bombonera at the age of 31, starring for Juventus, in his prime and as arguably one of the five best strikers in world football. The Primera Division and Copa Argentina titles fell just months after his arrival, and the grizzled fighter from Fuerte Apache appeared to have finally found his way home after a successful yet wandering path through Brazil, England and Italy.
Unfortunately, football has a nasty habit of laying waste to plans. Tevez has been a solid performer, but far from the whirlwind that made him a superstar at Manchester United, City and in Turin. And those around him have also failed to live up to expectations, particularly when it comes to the prize Boca fans most dearly covet.
“Get your passports renewed, we’ll take care of the rest,” Xeneize president Daniel Angelici vowed upon being voted into office in 2011. The promise was clear: Boca were destined to lift their first Libertadores since 2007, and bring thousands of fans over to Japan for the Club World Cup, the most prestigious trophy around in South America.
The signing of Carlitos for a staggering sum in local terms was seen as a vital step towards completing that dream, which had stalled in 2012 with final defeat to Corinthians and reached rock-bottom last year when a shameful pepper spray attack on River players led to the club’s expulsion from the tournament. But in 2016 only further heartache was in store, as Ecuadorian minnows Independiente del Valle humbled the club in the semi final and ended the dream once more.
There will be no further chance the coming year, with Boca’s absence from the Copa Libertadores already confirmed. And it begins to look less and less likely Tevez will stick around for another bite of the cherry in 2018; especially with the news that Shanghai Shenhua are ready to swoop with a 40 million a year offer that would set the forward up for the rest of his life.
“Right now I am only thinking about the Superclasico,” the 32-year-old explained to reporters when asked about the Shenhua move. He was tight-lipped, refusing to commit either to staying or going.
“I’ve got too much going on to think about the offer from China. First come River, then Colon, then I am getting married.
“I will think it over in the [Argentine summer] break. I might not just leave, I could also retire from football.”
While the forward himself did not give any clear indications over his future, his prospective new boss may have summed up better than anybody Tevez’s real motivation for a change. “Argentine football is not dramatic, but living in Argentina is,” Gustavo Poyet told TyC Sports as he confirmed his interest in the forward. Sadly, the Uruguayan showed impressive prescience.
In Buenos Aires Tevez is condemned to life inside a bubble, simultaneously feted and berated by a football-mad nation. His comparative riches, meanwhile, mark him out in a country where violent crime is a serious issue, albeit not on the scale of the likes of Venezuela and Colombia. His father suffered a harrowing kidnapping in 2014, when car thieves discovered his identity and subjected him to a five-hour ordeal before receiving a hefty ransom.
Former team-mate Daniel Osvaldo was also held up at gunpoint when robbers broke into a family birthday party, while Carlos lives secluded in a closed neighbourhood to the north of Buenos Aires protected around the clock by a private security firm.
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While Chinese football may appear a step down for the star, it guarantees him peace and quiet for his young family, and a last chance at the big payday that should mean that after retirement, he will never have to work another day in his life. For a kid from one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the Argentine capital, it is no mean achievement, and only a fool would have failed to glean from recent interviews that life at Boca is far from satisfactory right now for the unsettled Tevez.
Boca visit River hot on the heels of Primer leaders Estudiantes as the season creeps towards its summer break, and well set up for a championship pursuit when hostilities recommence in February. But they may well have to do so without their captain and talisman. Tevez will give his all at the Monumental to assure three points, and he will do so knowing that it could be the last time he takes the field in one of the world’s biggest fixtures.