The trouble with mavericks in football (Carlos Tevez)
In popular fiction we idolise maverick characters. We romanticise the exploits of those that stick it the Man, defy authority, and do things their own way. It’s rock ‘n roll, man, what’s more alluring than that?
In football, the reality of a maverick is often less appealing than the fantasy. Football fans who might otherwise like to consider themselves as outsiders display overtly conservative traits when confronted with a rebel. As news broke of Carlos Tevez’s apparent refusal to play typical comments from fans ranged from “Mancini needs to bang some heads together” or “there’s no discipline”. Hardly the stuff of rebel fantasy. When it comes to football I too have said things that are terrifyingly consistent with the outlook of BMW drivers in Surrey, for example, “if Barton’s going to publicly criticise his employers he’s got to expect consequences, that’s the real world.” Oh god, what have I become?
But, I wonder how many of those chastising Tevez or ridiculing City have at one time eulogised over Robin Friday, or own some St Pauli merchandise (guilty on both counts). Friday was the poster boy for aspirational football hipsters, especially after his image adorned the sleeve of the Super Furry Animals single, The Man Don’t Give a Fuck. I didn’t have a clue who he was when I cut a picture of this artwork out of Select Magazine (R.I.P.) to put on my wall, but the image – Friday flicking a ‘v’ – and his association with one of my favourite bands was enough. I concluded that Friday was obviously a total legend. He has since been celebrated as football’s first rock star, but (with no apology for asking such a trite question) how would he fare in the modern game? It’s more than likely that he’d be seen as a waster who didn’t deserve the talent that he had. I mean, really, was Friday that good, or Lee Trundle with too many vices?
The difference between Friday and Tevez is that the Argentine hasn’t really wasted his talents. Given the opportunity, he usually performs, but his destructive tendency is a stubborn trait, and it frustrates all of us who watch the game. Tevez is not alone, look at Mario Balotelli, or Antonio Cassano – regularly criticised for their unprofessional behaviour. The problem with all of these players is that they don’t seem to care as much about football as they are expected to. They just can’t take it that seriously. This is not their fault. They won’t be able to blame anyone if they haven’t got many medals at the end of their careers, but we can’t blame them for their ambivalence. It’s how they are. Incidentally, those three players are some of the few I would not begrudge paying today’s grotesque prices to watch.
Roberto Mancini’s assertion that the Tevez saga would not have happened at United or Munich was more likely intended for his board than City’s fans or the media. He needs their backing to take action against a star asset like Tevez. United had their own maverick in the form of Eric Cantona, a player with such an uncontrollable temperament that he launched a flying kick at a spectator. Did United sack him? Did they hell. They knew he was integral to their success. Tevez may not have Cantona’s status at City, but he is probably their only player who can score during any period in the game, creating a chance for himself out of nothing. When you have that talent it is understandable that you might be sceptical of the value that a manager can add to your game.
This is a player who called Gary Neville a ‘boot licker’ – an insult reflecting his utter contempt for ass kissers and managers’ pets. And yet, we want to drive him from these shores – for what purpose? Would you rather a legion of Gareth Barry and Darren Fletcher clones? We need to celebrate the mavericks in football as we do in other walks of life. They are always unreliable and frustrating, that’s the point. And forget about the money; the money is immoral regardless of how well a footballer is performing. If we’re going to waste our lives on this sport we need someone to make it interesting. Carlos makes it interesting.