First of all, and let’s get this out of the way quickly so that any City fans enraged by the title can read the offending part early and get on with the business of abusing me below the line: Carlos Tevez’s refusal to play for Manchester City on Tuesday was almost entirely Manchester City’s fault.
I’m not the only person who thinks this; Roberto Mancini agrees with me. When he asked whether this would happen at Bayern Munich or Manchester United, Mancini implied more than the ‘No, of course not’ that he intended. He also called up a contrast between nouveau riche City and the European gentry. There is a reason, and Mancini knows this, why something so palpably possible at his club that it actually happened has, and will, never happen at a traditionally big club.
Because they have history in their favour, clubs like United and Bayern have their pick of talent. Good players sign for them because of who they are, because they want to play for them. This is not true of City. Good players sign for City because they are rich, because they want lots of money.
Tevez is the embodiment of this. His contract stipulates that he must always be City’s highest paid player and, therefore, elevates him above his teammates. This is almost the definition of entitlement and it is an entitlement which, more than simply create, City have actually enshrined. That it came back to bite them is, if not inevitable, then, certainly not surprising.
I should add the caveat here that I am not in support of Tevez. Paris Hilton is probably the way that she is because she was over-indulged by her wealthy parents; I still think she’s a contemptible turd.
With that in mind, let’s proceed to issue two: the media.
The press has gone mental about this. The Guardian, for example, have turned to all of Hayward, Conn, Taylor, Pearson, Pleat, Wilson and Lawrence for comment which has, Conn excepted, mirrored Mancini’s in pointing the angry, shaking finger of castigation squarely at the player.
This is annoying. We can expect that from Mancini, appearing as Tevez’s angry boss; we are entitled to expect more from our commentators.
If, as Graeme Souness said in the aftermath of Tevez’s refusal, Tevez is the embodiment of everything the man on the street hates about football, then we, the men (and women – come on Graeme, Sky’s a different place these days) on the street can figure that out for ourselves. We don’t read newspapers like The Guardian to be told what we already know. We read it for insight, and access to players that we cannot get, not lazy equivocation between Tevez’s refusal to come off the subs bench and his inability to speak English.
It is arrogant for anyone to speculate (especially to an audience of several thousand people) on the mental state of anyone else; in the case of a journalist it is irresponsible too.
In A Life too Short, the newly published biography of Robert Enke of which Raphael Honigstein spoke eloquently and sensitively in a recent edition of Football Weekly, Ronnie Reng depicts a man in an unbearable state of depression who is yet able to maintain a façade of normality so convincing that his closest friends and family had no idea of the severity of his condition until after he took his own life in January 2009.
This is not to compare Tevez to Enke. Again, it is most probable that Tevez is a spoiled brat and that his refusal to play on Tuesday was the consequence of that; even were that not the case, it is not my place to speculate on Tevez’s mental health (which is exactly the point I’m making).
Instead, I mean to suggest that lessons should have been learned from Enke’s story. Enke’s death showed, tragically, the immense chasm that can exist between an individual’s public persona and their private state of mind. This is a chasm that cannot be bridged by hacks employed to write about football.
In Germany, where Ralf Rangnick’s recent resignation from Schalke, was treated with respect by the press, this lesson has been learned. In England, though, where Tevez’s behaviour has led to outspoken condemnation of his (assumed) mental state, it is hard to know if things have progressed much beyond John Gregory’s mid-nineties position that it is impossible to be depressed on 40-grand a week.
The two strands above come together here because what is peculiar about the Tevez affair is the way it made a lot of otherwise very responsible, eloquent and insightful journalists completely lose the run of themselves.
The Abu Dhabi United group is a conglomerate that exists to acquire things, and when you own things you treat them that way. You paint them up on Billboards and use them as a perpetuating symbol for your limitless ability to accumulate more things.
The incredible reaction to Tevez’s midweek action is a bizarre sort of aftershock to a very dramatic revelation. By refusing to play on Tuesday, Tevez woke people up to the forgotten fact of his mental life: ‘Ooh, the Billboard has thoughts’. Inadvertently, Tevez shrugged off his public persona as a beacon for Manchester City’s incredible wealth and because of his especially reified status, as the most thinglike thing in a club full of things, the effect of this fact was to startle hacks into . Newly conditioned to comment on breaking stories immediately, they launched into analysis of a story that could accurately be sub-titled ‘Man has thoughts’ and proceeded to completely ungrounded speculation as to what those thoughts might be.
In doing so, they missed some real stories, to do with City’s poor result and potentially problematic business model. They subordinated themselves to the level of the man on the street. They abandoned their sacred position of knowledge ensured by access and, reminded of a forgotten truth, instead spent the rest of the week telling us things we already think we know about something that, in fact, none of us know anything about at all.