Carlos Tevez in China: The struggling superstar

Date published: Tuesday 18th April 2017 4:55

For any reader of this website, and therefore anyone who has followed football over the past ten years, I can say for sure you will know about the man known as “El Apache”, Carlos Tevez.

For so long Tevez was a staple of elite level world football on both domestic and international fronts. A Copa Libertadores title, Argentinean title, Brazilian title, Premier League title, Champions League title, FA Cup, Serie A title, South American Player of the Year on multiple occasions, p*ssing off Neil Warnock; it’s all there. Tevez achieved it all through his trademark persistent, never-give-up style.

It was a combination of his past success, fame and charismatic style which attracted the interest and financial might of Shanghai Shenhua. Late last year, they managed to lure Tevez from his childhood club Boca Juniors for a whopping £71.6 million and a weekly wage of £615,000, making him the most handsomely paid footballer in history.

The move made headlines around the world, both due to the astonishing figures and the evidence that China’s influence in football was continuing to grow. But after a short spell of headlines in the west, media interest shifted to more topical stories closer to home. In China, people were eager to see how the Chinese Super League’s (CSL) new global superstar would perform and how he would improve quality to a previously unseen level. There continued to be great interest from the Chinese media in how Tevez was settling in.

We had to wait until early February to see Tevez in competitive action, but Shanghai Shenhua got off to an earlier start than other CSL teams. They played host to Brisbane Roar in the final play-off round of the AFC Champions League. As expected, Tevez was in the starting line-up and the home fans were out in force, despite the very chilly Chinese winter, to see their new golden boy. Brisbane Roar cruised to a 2-0 and prematurely ended Shanghai’s Champions League hopes.

Clearly this was not the result Shanghai Shenhua were looking for, but there was particular disappointment in their talisman. Tevez failed to shine in a game against an opposing team whose combined value was considerably lower than his. However, since it was his first game in Asian club football, in a team that was of a far lower quality than that he was previously used to, the benefit of the doubt was given.

Then there was a month’s wait until Shanghai Shenhua’s next match, the CSL opener against last year’s runners-up, and home of Alex Teixeira and Ramires, Jiangsu Suning. This was again to be played at home and offered the perfect opportunity to show off Tevez against big opposition with rival big names. Shanghai thumped Jiangsu 4-0, Tevez got on the score sheet courtesy of a penalty, and he registered two assists. It not only helped to offer reassurances on Tevez’s acclimatisation in Asia, but raised talk of a Shanghai league title challenge. For his part, Tevez insisted he was not yet used to the CSL and its tempo.

Tevez’s subsequent performances added substance to that warning. Over the next three games, he played every single minute but did not manage to score or even make much of a positive impact. This run included a home draw against Tianjin Teda and two away defeats against Hebei Fortune and bitter rivals Beijing GuoAn. These are all mid-table teams who Shanghai would expect to match without Tevez, but El Apache was supposed to be the difference.

Tevez was, of course, the first player to receive scrutiny. That was heightened in light of city rivals Shanghai SIPG starting the season strongly, with their big name South American talisman Hulk taking to the CSL with ease. It was not only the performance of the star players in other teams which reflected badly on Tevez, but his own. Colombian Giovanni Moreno has scored four goals in four games, making him the joint top scorer in the CSL.

All this has led to ire on Chinese social media and an increasing amount of general discontent.  The drive and tenacity which has been present throughout Tevez’s career seems to have disappeared. He is no longer the one who will never give up, no longer the forward who constantly needs two markers.

This accused disinterest is the main irritation for fans of Shanghai Shenhua and, more broadly, for Chinese football supporters. It looks like Tevez is not trying and has little emotional investment in the project. We all know he went over to China for the money, but for £600,000 a week it would be nice to see him at least feign interest. Manchester City fans might tell you that Tevez can lose interest very easily and takes some persuading to regain it.

Shanghai Shenhua’s fortunes changed in their latest game with a 3-2 away win at Changchun Yatai, but Tevez played no part in the win as he was ruled out through injury. Photographs from the same time suggest another reason for absence: He was snapped, not sitting in the stands cheering on his teammates, but walking around Disneyland Shanghai with his family. This has led to further dissatisfaction from fans who saw a better performance from their team without a star man who seemed to be taking time off for a holiday.

It is undeniable that Tevez’s time in the CSL has not gone according to plan. In 450 minutes he has managed one goal (a penalty) and failed to demonstrate why he was previously considered one of the best in the world. Goals will be the perfect medicine for such disappointment, but Tevez must also take care to buy in to Shanghai Shenhua’s vision of success. It’s easy to look like you’re taking the Mickey when you’re spotted at Disneyland rather than watching your team.


Laurence Mason – Laurence lives in China and runs the Great Ball of China blog.

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