x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

‘Champion’ Tevez is on the outside looking in

Uncertainty over a place in the World Cup squad for Argentina, but up first is a reunion with old coach Mancini, writes Ian Hawkey.

Roberto Mancini, right, and Carlos Tevez had a tumultuous time together at Manchester City. Tonight they will be on opposing sides. Darren Staples / Reuters
Roberto Mancini, right, and Carlos Tevez had a tumultuous time together at Manchester City. Tonight they will be on opposing sides. Darren Staples / Reuters

Carlos Tevez would not be human if, on Friday, while his Juventus side prepared for their match at Bologna, he had not felt a little isolated.

Being left on the bench sat OK with him, because he was rested from playing in Juve’s Serie A win so as not risk his energy levels for this evening’s Champions League game against Galatasaray in Istanbul.

But listening to the excited conversations about the topic of the day among his colleagues must have stung.

The draw for the group phase of the World Cup finals had been made in Bahia a few hours before the kick-off of Bologna-Juve.

All but one of Juventus’s established first XI, as well as several of their back-up players, can assume, fitness permitting, that they will be in Brazil in June.

Goalkeeper Gigi Buffon and his trio of sentries, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, remain Italy’s preferred defence. Although the news that they will face Uruguay and England may have had them speculating on the arbitrary luck of these events, the thrill of Brazil 2014 seemed suddenly closer.

So, too, for Stephan Lichtsteiner, bantering with Paul Pogba, whose France will play Lichtsteiner’s Switzerland on June 20. Likewise for Chile’s Arturo Vidal and Spain’s Fernando Llorente, rivals in Group B, and for Ghana’s Kwadwo Asamoah and the other Azzurri regulars, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo.

Tevez has established himself since August as the most trusted striker at Juve, who lead the Italian league table.

He has not, however, been picked for his country, Argentina, since 2011. Competition for forward places is strong, with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero.

Yet behind Argentina’s continued exclusion of Tevez, there lurks a suspicion that his troublesome history may have a bearing.

Tevez remains popular with a broad section of Argentinian supporters, but he also shouldered some blame for the national team’s failure at the 2011 Copa America.

A new coach, the discreet and thoughtful Alex Sabella, has since taken command, and his posture toward Tevez has been consistent.

The player never comments on the subject. His Juventus coach, Antonio Conte, when asked, expresses his opinion that “any country would want a striker of Carlos’s calibre.”

For Conte, that calibre has been displayed in an abundance of areas: nine goals in domestic competition since Tevez joined from Manchester City in the summer, not to mention the work rate that has always characterised his football in the Argentinian, Brazilian and English top flights.

More importantly, there have been none of the rebellious episodes that marked his departure from Manchester United, and his subsequent fallouts with Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, whose instructions he infamously defied during a Champions League night in Munich two years ago.

Mancini asked Tevez, a City substitute, to prepare for insertion into a match City trailed 2-0 against Bayern. He refused and Mancini wanted him to leave the club.

He instead spent several months, while still being paid, in an eerie exile before returning, five months later, to the squad.

The episode marked Tevez as problematic, wilful. Juventus found that advantageous when negotiating a fee to buy him from City.

Conte has found no sign of those traits in the striker’s conduct so far.

“I keep saying he has surprised us,” Conte said. “I’d heard some things, but all I have seen is a dedicated champion.”

Which is the type of player he wants to see fresh, aggressive and equal to a challenge like tonight’s, against a Galatasaray noisily supported, at home, and in circumstances close to those of a straight knock-out.

If the Turkish club win, they go through to last 16 at Juve’s expense. A draw preserves the Italian team’s two-point advantage in second place in the group.

For all their domestic swagger, Conte’s Juventus have about them a nervousness in the Champions League. Tevez may become the antidote they have been seeking.

He alone can look around the 10 players and know he is the only one among them to have won a Champions League title, as he did with United.

Moreover, Tevez can look at the coach on the opposition bench and remember that he has a particular history with him, something extra to motivate him.

Plotting Galatasaray’s fate is their new coach, one Roberto Mancini.