Carlos Tevez on the brink of redemption
It seemed as if there was no way back for Carlos Tevez, the troublemaker whose reputation as the bad boy of football appeared to be etched in granite.
As Tevez was sanctioned by Manchester City for refusing to warm up during a game against Bayern Munich in 2011, his response was to return home in a huff, hit the golf courses of Argentina and live up to his billing as a wayward villain of the piece.
Surely there was no club who would dare to hire the firebrand who so recklessly undermined his employers with a public show of contempt that was as garish as it was ridiculous.
Tevez was damaged goods, with a quick fix repair impossible to imagine. An improbable revival at City allowed Tevez to return to the team to play a part in City’s dramatic Premier League title win in May 2012 (below), but the kind of success he is now within touching distance of achieving confirms that there is always a way back in sport, even for the naughtiest of naughty boys.
Now Tevez stands on the brink of the ultimate victory, as he prepares to carry the hopes of Juventus supporters in next Saturday’s Champions League final against Barcelona in Berlin, with his journey from the poverty-stricken streets of Argentina to the heart of football’s elite set to be defined by this single game.
As Tevez was only a bit part player with Manchester United as he was crowned as a Champions League winner back in 2008, success against Barca in Germany will mean so much more now as the talisman of the Juve battalion.
His 20 Serie A goals helped to propel Juventus to the Italian title this season, with the seven strikes he has added in the Champions League crucial to his side’s unexpected progress to the biggest club game in European football.
At the tail end of his explosive career, this maverick performer is finally making headlines for the right reasons and he is revelling in his long awaited promotion to a senior role in one of Europe’s elite teams.
“I was never seen as a leader of a team until now,” says the striker who was left out of Argentina’s World Cup finals squad last summer.
“At United, they had Cristiano Ronaldo and so many other big players, big egos.
“Maybe at City it was different, but I made a mistake and then it was difficult for me after that. I behaved badly at City, I know that, but the welcome I had at Juventus has continued during my time here and they see me as a big player of their team.
“For me, the important part about this Juventus side is the team mindset. At United, we had Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney and they were the big stars. Juve don’t have a mindset like that.
“We have shown in this Champions League run that we don’t have to fear anyone and there is no team we need to fear. We beat Borussia Dortmund and then we beat Real Madrid. No one believed we could do it, but we always believed.
“Barcelona are the favourites in the final, but we can be confident against any team. We have come too far not to believe now.”
Tevez’s high profile adviser Kia Joorabchian tried to claim his client was misunderstood during his turbulent spells at Manchester’s two big clubs, with his occasional inflammatory outbursts in the media mixed with a sense that he was never entirely happy in England.
Yet when you delve into the life story of a player who emerged from poverty in the deprived area of Ciudadela near Buenos Aires in Argentina, it’s easy to see why he has an inner fighting spirit that has occasionally worked against him.
Tevez still carries the scars from an accident that saw boiling water singe the skin on his face and neck and his battle-scarred appearance seems to befit a sportsman who has seen more than most – on and off the field – in his 31 years on this planet.
In a recent interview with FIFA, Tevez described his experiences as a child and the traumas he has overcome en route to fame and fortune on Europe’s green soccer fields. He painted quite a picture.
“It’s tough to make people understand what that life is like if they haven’t been through the same things as I or the other people from that neighbourhood have experienced,” stated Tevez.
“My whole childhood was hard, so it wasn’t a matter of any individual incident to sum up what has happened to me.
"I lived in a place where drugs and murder were part of everyday life. Experiencing difficult things, even as a very young kid, means you grow up quickly.
“I think that enables everyone to choose their own path and not just accept the one others have taken before you, and I went my own way. I never condoned drugs or murder, and luckily I was able to make a choice.
“I got out of that area and there are others who were able to escape that situation too. It’s not easy for anyone. In fact, it’s unbelievably difficult to get out of there.
"But everyone’s fate is in their own hands, as I always say. You have to prove to people that we’re not all the same.”
Who knows where Tevez would be now if he had not made a success of his sporting career, with the less than forgiving streets of Argentina a million miles away from the life he has forged for himself since making his controversial move to West Ham in 2006.
He may have won ten major trophies during his spells in Manchester and now with Juventus, but success next weekend would be the high point of a complicated Tevez story that could one-day be turned into a movie.