It was always going to be something concerning Carlitos Tevez that roused us from our six-week slumber. Pegamequemegusta loves Carlitos. Indeed, ’twas an injustice involving el Apache that saw our conception some years ago – though not, we hasten to add, of the kind common to busy-handed Frenchmen.
We’ve been waiting to hear from him over the last few months since he was dropped. In the meantime, his partner in inexplicable exile from el Checho Batista’s squads, el Kun Agüero, has been welcomed back. Batista had given another round of interviews this week where he failed to explain the decision to anyone’s satisfaction. He was even made squirm on one radio show as Mariano Closs confronted him with the undeniable brilliance of Tevez’s two goals against Stoke: when Checho claimed he hadn’t seen them, Closs told him to turn on the tv quickly as they were being shown on Fox. Despite acknowledging they were golazos, the Argentina manager continued to mutter incoherently about how he wanted the Boca-era Tevez and that, failing that, Messi was his number nine, with Higuaín and Agüero as back-up. His stubbornness prompted a front cover in Olé under the headline Apachau ['So long, Apache']. And so, with his absence from the Copa América assured, the season pretty much over and a case-boosting FA Cup in the bag, Carlitos finally decided to speak.
There are many interesting aspects to what is an extensive interview. Chief among them is Messi’s nickname: Tevez refers to him as el Enano, the Dwarf. Pegamequemegusta had never heard that before. Also, we found it quite plausible that Messi and Tevez qouldn’t get on, but Tevez reveals Lionel is one of the players he talks most to. Likewise, we were inclined to believe that Tevez had indeed caused a bit of a ruckus at the World Cup last year over the fuss made for Messi’s birthday while Pastore’s was roundly ignored, yet after hearing him we changed our mind.
The interview, conducted over the phone late on Wednesday night by two of Olé‘s better journalists, Marcelo Sottile and Adrián Piedrabuena, addresses all the spats, real and rumoured, and for the most part we find Tevez to be quite convincing. Inevitably it’s quite repetitive as Carlitos keeps coming back to the same point: he doesn’t understand why he has been excluded. When you step back from what exactly happened in each case, however, it’s hard to escape the impression that – besides the fact you’re wasting your life – Tevez probably is a bit of a pain in the hole to deal with. Why is it always him who’s involved in these little scrapes and run-ins? He’s honest, yeah, and in the Japan episode he seems to have been a lot less ‘selfish‘ than Roy Keane in Saipan, say, insofar as he wasn’t looking to score points against the manager as much as he was genuinely sticking up for his teammates. The cumulative effect, though, is that he’s a bit of a Larry David character, and it’s hard to escape the impression the affronted AFA men (wretched folk all) got tired of him and decided to cut him loose.
Since Maradona’s departure, the main men in the sick world of Argieball have been preoccupied with consolidating and extending their power. This land grab was a happy consequence of the delay in officially appointing Batista. They let him hang, weakening his hand deliberately. After all, let’s not forget it was Grondona who decided to declare Tevez was being punished for not playing against Brazil – a statement that directly contradicted Batista’s assertions up to that point. It seems highly unlikely don Julio would have taken such liberties had the man it is said they initially wanted, Marcelo Bielsa, been in the post.
Only last July Grondona’s administration had found itself under serious threat with the perennial cheerleaders Olé openly calling for massive changes. Then, once a pliable and, crucially, not financially secure manager was installed, they looked to deflect attention away from the urgent reform needed by continually flogging the idea of Messi as the Messiah, the panacea to all our ills, footballing, spiritual, economic. They adopted Barcelona’s Make Messi Happy policy but altered it ingeniously to Messi IS Happy So You Should Be, Too. And by September, after the Spain win, they clearly felt strong enough to chastise Mascherano and the rest of the players, referring to the scandalous nature of the qualifying campaign and the humiliating fifth act in South Africa. Chief FPT stooge and Grondona ally Marcelo Araujo identified Maradona and Mascherano as Argieball’s most vicious powermongers, ruthlessly thwarting the meek visionaries of the AFA, who had only wanted to put mints on their pillows in Pretoria. The captain was but a brief candle next to the AFA’s eternal flame; a spindly, pitiful urchin of dubious origin compared with the heroic, muscular achievements of the bearded founding fathers. There had been a revolution from above: ‘Messi is the new boss of the AFA,’ Araujo declared.
Yet much like Batista, Messi is just a front; he’s a manikin. What he actually wants is pretty much irrelevant; and what would actually be good for him, were it identified to be contrary to the interests of those running the AFA, would be doubly so. The insistence on Making Messi Happy has taken a sinister turn, become a ploy to root out real and imagined enemies, as if the Barca player were indeed some kind of ogre whose every whim must be satisfied. The policy has seen the manager’s hand weakened (what’s Bilardo for?) and the coffers filled as lucrative deals are signed promising Messi will grace fields in New York and Tokyo, injured or not. It has seen the captain’s position undermined repeatedly by talk of it only being a matter of time before Messi gets the armband. While Zanetti, despite his vast experience, is a docile meekling. From the 2006 squad, only Mascherano, Messi, Cambiasso and Burdisso remain. None of those players are likely to pipe up on any matter or provide any leadership on the pitch. Though leadership is generally a bogus issue, at 27 and with two World Cups already, Tevez should be one of the senior players in the squad, and pegamequemegusta reckons he could only do Messi good. In a squad featured such bland figures as Higuaín, Di María, Banega, BIGLIA, Lavezzi, and a series of other players just hoping to keep their places, an establshed player with a bit of a tough head on him is exactly what is necessary. The power vacuum has been filled instead, however, with an empty presence: Messi’s vapid, lifeless stare.
This is the backdrop to the Tevez story. While admittedly skull-thumpingly tiresome, and despite the fact that Tevez’s talk of respect is tedious in the extreme (even when he’s right), it gives you an impression of just how rotten Argieball is these days.
As regards the text, its repetitiveness alone testifies to the lack of meddling on Olé‘s part. Unlike other interviews, this one reads like the questions were in fact asked in the order they are presented, following a natural progression from spluttering indignation through to a wearied lullaby sadness at the end, sniff sniff. Having said that, there’s a surprising absence of any bad words: carajo doesn’t even make an appearance. The only concessions the text makes to Tevez’s way of speaking are the epithets máquina and monstruo [lit. 'machine' and 'monster'], which we’ve conservatively rendered as man.
Here it is in full, including the introductory scene-setting. You can read the original Spanish here.
- Do you swear you didn’t duck out of the friendly against Brazil last November?
- Yeah, I swear.
Although in Manchester it’s 01:30am this Thursday, that is today, Carlos Tevez’s house is far from quiet. Yet tonight it’s not because of the infectious laughter of Valentino Ruocco, his agent’s kid. The buzz has an altogether different origin… The day he decided to break his silence, after having been on the radio and cable tv, the most famous absentee from Checho Batista’s squad still has plenty to say. Relaxed now after dinner, he gladly accepts a call from Olé…
“Ask me whatever you want, lads,” he insists.
- You swear you didn’t dodge the friendly. Then why did Julio Grondona declare in public that you claimed to have been injured only to play for City four days later?
- I don’t know why Grondona said that… At that time, the time of the call-up, I spoke to Checho and told him I wasn’t 100%, that I had a problem with my back, but that I could go anyway. Sure I played through injury against Spain. But he said it wasn’t necessary. ‘Let’s just be sure we get our stories straight with the media,’ he told me. ‘That i’m injured, nothing else to it,’ I said. And there you have it. That was the last time we spoke.
- And that’s what you said to Grondona when you rang him last week? He was the one who brought the whole matter out into the open in the first place.
- Yeah it was him, but i’m telling you, I don’t know why. To be honest, this time when I spoke to him all I asked was ‘Is there some problem with me, Don Julio?’ ‘Nooo, not at all. Now, Carlitos, I don’t know if Checho has or not. When he gets back from Europe i’m sure i’ll be meeting up with him. I’ll ask him and give you a call,’ he said.
- If you hadn’t played 73 minutes against Fulham, would all this have happened?
- I played because I was fit to do so, that’s the truth. It’s not that I said one thing and did another. Besides, I tend to recover quite quickly from injuries. If you look back at my career you’ll see that’s always been the case. Just recently I got over a nasty hamstring injury in 20 days. My conscience is clear: I know what I did and didn’t do…
- But you have to explain yourself, Carlitos.
- Yeah I do because there’ve been plenty of lies going round regarding my not being in the squad. I’m just as puzzled as to why i’m not in the squad, but I haven’t gotten any answers from the other side.
- It’s hard to escape the feeling that someone here is telling fibs. Who is it?
- Someone definitely is, but I don’t know who. I’m telling you how I see it. They say the manager has other priorities, and I can respect that. I don’t know if the word’s coming down from on high… It could be Grondona, Bilardo, I don’t know. I don’t think it has much to do with football.
- Is it true that you were annoyed that you didn’t get a call when the manager came to Europe to see the players?
- Yeah, because the least he could have done was give me a call and say ‘Look, Carlitos, i’m not happy with how you’ve been playing and you’re not part of my plans.’ Nothing more. One of his assistants [Alberto Rodríguez] came to Manchester and spoke to Pablo Zabaleta, but no-one spoke to me.
- Why do you think Batista won’t talk to you. He’s not the kind of guy to pick fights with anyone.
- I don’t know, man. I called Checho, my agent left him a message, too, but he never got back to me. We didn’t argue on the phone or anything. Same with Grondona.
- At any point have you thought ‘feck it, i’m not going to play for Argentina anymore’? Because you did say something like that after the Spain friendly in the Monumental.
- Nah, I was just in a bit of a huff that day. You know me by now. I never really considered retiring from international football; my country is very important to me. I’m always willing to play.
- Why did you keep quiet these last six months? Or are you speaking now, four months later, because you know now there’s no chance you’ll play at the Copa América?
- I’ve known for a while now I wouldn’t be at the Copa América. You needn’t look any further than the manager leaving Manchester out of his trip to Europe; and on top of that you have the fact that he didn’t call me, or answer the phone when I rang him… There were plenty of indicators. Yet I was waiting for a reason, and I still am. That’s all, because you have to respect the coach’s decision. And if it’s a footballing decision, i’m fine with that. I can’t do anything about that. But i’d like to know why.
- What would you say to Batista if you talked to him?
- I’d ask him what the problem is. And if there is one, we’d sort it out, as it should be. If he said ‘Carlitos, it’s just football’, grand, I can take that. But at the least I deserve an explanation.
- Do you need that chat to work out whether you really believe him or not or do you just want the chance to tell him what you think face to face?
- For the moment I have to believe him. Sure i’ve never had any run-ins with Checho… I just think I deserved a call saying ‘Carlitos, you’re not going to be part of my plans’. If you’ve been a player, you know how a squad works… If I don’t want you around, I get a hold of you and let you know. Or if he really did think I didn’t want to play against Brazil, he could say that, too. “You weren’t happy about that, then,” i’d answer. Nothing else to it. But not to make any contact and then talk about it repeatedly with the press, that’s not right.
- If it was purely a footballing matter, could you be playing any better?
- How do you mean, better? [He appears to get annoyed] I was in Argentina and I won everything. I go to Brazil and win everything there. I come to England and win everything. How am I supposed to do any better?
- I wasn’t questioning your achievements. On the contrary. I was getting at the 21 goals you’ve scored this season.
- That’s how I play, with or without all the fuss. I can be the Tevez who scores goals like Messi or Maradona or the Tevez who doesn’t get anything right [on the pitch – our note]. But I give my all… That’s why I say I respect the manager’s decision not to include me. And of course i’ll be behind the team like any another Argentinian. But he should have said it to me in person, not over the internet or on Twitter, not to the journalists or anyone else.
- We didn’t imagine you on Twitter following everything Checho says…
- No, but now i’m going to tell my agent [Adrián Ruocco] to set one up so we can follow him [laughs].
- Seriously, though, what you’re looking for is a meeting.
- That’s how it has to be. You’re the manager of the Selección… Ring me up and say: ‘You’re not in the team ’cause you refused to play against Brazil’. Knowing me, you know full well that’s not the case, but fine… I respect your decision. Cheers for calling and good luck.
- Might he avoided calling you as he knew you’d get annoyed?
- But sure he’s the manager of the Selección, isn’t he? This has never happened to me with any other manager in my whole career.
- What do your teammates make of it all?
- I spoke to Messi and he asked me if i’d spoken… Nah, what we spoke about stays between us. The little fella’s the guy I speak most to. And then they say we don’t get on, you know?! How the hell am I going to fight with him?
- You didn’t think of asking Messi to step in on your behalf with Checho?
- No, no, I get on grand with the little fella but I don’t think he or anyone else in the squad has that kind of influence over el Checho. Not even Grondona or Bilardo… I don’t think Lío would do it, either, and I wouldn’t ask him to… It wouldn’t be right.
- During the World Cup a rumour went round that you had gotten quite angry over the fact that they celebrated Messi’s birthday but not Pastore’s, which had been four days before. Is that true?
- No, not at all. There were no problems at the World Cup. I talk to Lío a great deal – he’s one of the lads I speak most to. But that thing with Pastore was just me taking the piss out of Tucho [Villani, the team doctor]. I said: ‘So Tucho, you get Messi a cake but not Pastore?’ All the lads had a laugh… People go looking for problems… Either to get rid of me or to try to explain why i’m not there. Who are they going to say has a problem with me? Messi or Mascherano… ’cause they’re the only two players in the team whose places are guaranteed. I played with Masche at Corinthians and West Ham and they know we get along fine. So they make up stuff about me and the best player in the world. Complete rubbish. I’ve never caused problems in any dressing room.
- Would you be willing to be a sub for Messi? Another line doing the rounds is that you’d be a time bomb on the bench. Before the World Cup you made it clear to Diego through the media that you wanted to play.
- How could I not accept being a sub for Messi? Sure he’s the best player in the world. And it’s a good idea to set up the team around him. It has to be Messi + 10. How could you not be a sub for Messi when you know he’s better than you?
- Do you know who said this: ‘You’d have to be out of your mind [alcoholizado] not to call up Tevez’?
- Yeah, Diego.
- Yesterday. He’s in Spain at the minute. You must have been pleased.
- I’m always happy to listen to Diego, and he always sticks up for me. But, you know, everyone has their own opinion.
- [He interrupts] But that’s all there is to it. Nothing’s going to change now, even if I score a thousand goals. That’s been made quite clear.
- If you had the chance, would you defend Diego again the way you did in Ireland? You got into hot water with Grondona, and he went to see you in your hotel room.
- Of course i’d do the same thing again as I had my reasons to defend Diego. I always try to be as honest as I can, with whoever i’m dealing with, whatever the consequences. As regards Grondona that time, we sorted everything out – even if i ended up looking like a bit of a jackass [boludo].
- Have you considered that you might be reaping the consequences of your complaints regarding the logistical problems of the trip to Japan?
- I, just like Heinze, who also spoke to those [AFA – our note] officials, would definitely do the same again because we did it to stick up for our teammates. Though it’s something to think about as these days me and him are the only two players who’ve been left out ever since…. Still, I have a clear conscience and I don’t lose any sleep over it. I felt I had to stick up for my teammates as afterwards, when we lose, we’re the ones who cop the flak. People start saying we’re lazy and all sorts of things… that day we told them what was what and I think we were right to.
- But what happened exactly?
- Well first of all I told el Gringo [Heinze] that i’d go with him to talk to the directors if he wanted but he said no. So he went to talk to Crespi and Segura, the people in charge of the delegation. El Gringo said the organization couldn’t be so shoddy. The hotel we were in was two hours from the stadium. And afterwards I went and told them the hotel was shite. It was really poor: after all the travelling we had done, the distances we had to cover, that’s why Milito and Cambiasso got injured. And it was no coincidence I pulled up afterwards, too.
- But do you reckon you have a fight on your hands if you’re going to get back in with Batista?
- I don’t know if i’m going to play under Checho again. But I insist: I don’t have any personal problem with Checho. And if he calls me tomorrow and says: ‘Carlitos, i’m calling you up to the squad’, i’ll be happy to go. And if he doesn’t call me, I wish him well. What else can I do? My way of playing isn’t going to change; that’s how I am. Anyone who knows me knows how I am. He might not like that, I don’t know, but i’m always ready to play for Argentina. And to really bring something to the group, not just to make up the numbers.
- When you talked to Checho, at the first few friendlies, did he say anything to you about your style of play or ask you to change anything?
- No, both times he asked me to play on the left, against both Spain and Japan. And I played on the left, played quite well, no problems. He says he wants the Boca Tevez, the number 9 Tevez, but under him I always played out wide.
- Can you play out wide in a 4-3-3 with Messi as number nine?
- Well we’ve played that way many times and never had any problems. I never said I didn’t want to play out wide. I’ve never refused to play in any particular position. I play where the manager tells me. Whether it works or not is another question, but I always do what they ask of me.
- Will you go to watch Argentina play?
- Nooo. I’m going on holidays now.
- Because you want a rest or because…?
- [Interrupts] No, no, I can’t. I mean it, I couldn’t watch the games.
- Too painful?
- Well, yeah. I saw the other matches, against Portugal and Brazil, on TV, but I won’t watch the Copa América games – not even on the telly.
- When did you realise things had gone this far?
- Today [for yesterday, Wednesday]. It finally dawned on me when I decided to speak.
- Because Checho spoke over the last few hours and let it be understood you wouldn’t be called up?
- No, no, Checho has been saying the same thing for a while now… I never spoke out against him. I’ve said it before and i’ll repeat the same thing a thousand times: it’s his decision. But I felt that now was the time to speak.
- So this is your lowest ebb?
- Are you crazy? What are you talking about? [he gets angry for the second time] City have just won the cup; i’m the captain; God willing, i’ll be top scorer in the league; we’ve qualified for the Champion’s League; City hadn’t won a trophy for 35 years… No, i’m very pleased. This is an incredible time for me. Everyone adores me, they love me, and that now i’m no longer part of the national team isn’t going to change my opinion regarding the fans.
- But you’re not where you want to be.
- Sometimes you just have to accept that you can’t always be where you want to be, but I understand that. It saddens me not to be there, to enjoy it with my family… But beyond trying to play as best I can, scoring goals, being top scorer and winning the cup with my club, there’s not much I can do. It’s up to the manager…
- Are you more likely to put your fist through a wall or shed a tear?
- To be honest i’m feeling so down the latter’s more likely, ’cause I want to play for Argentina. And i’m not just saying that for the sake of it… Though on the other hand my conscience is clear; I know I gave my all for the Selección. And I know now that even if I score a thousand goals I won’t be called up. I gave my all. I don’t know why I won’t be called up.
- Do you think now that you’ve spoken, Batista will call you to clear things up?
- I don’t know, I don’t know what he’s thinking… I don’t really know Checho that well to be honest. I’ve only spoken to him four or five times. I don’t know what he’s thinking, what he wants, what he doesn’t want. Nor do I don’t need him to talk about me or to ring me up… If he calls me up to the squad i’ll be happy to go, no doubt about it. And if he doesn’t call me, I wish him and the rest of the lads well.
- What do the Argentines you see in Manchester make of it all?
- They ask me why i’m not in the squad, say they don’t understand it. They say I should be there. But it’s not up to me.
- And your teammates at City, are they surprised?
- They ask me what the story is and I tell them the same thing I said to you: I don’t know. They’re just surprised, that’s all.
- And your mates? Are they in on some theory that you can’t talk about in public?
- I tell them the same thing, that i don’t know why i’m not involved. If I knew i’d tell you. But I don’t, man.
Finally, it appears Carlitos will get his wish: Batista was on the radio again today (Friday) and said that he was going to ring Tevez to straighten a few things out. He didn’t go so far as to call him a liar but claimed: “He said some things that don’t square with the facts.” Chief amongst these, according to Hernán Claus of Olé, is a heretofore unmentioned visit by two of Checho’s assistants, Tocalli and Brown, to Manchester last December. The saga continues.
It’s all so much piffle, though, whorish claim and counter claim. And twill be so until Grondona is got.