Is Man City the Right Place For Carlos Tevez?

Let me preface by saying that Carlos Tevez has joined Manchester City after the club reached an agreement with Kia Joorabchian. An article in Spanish can be read here: http://www.ole.clarin.com/notas/2009/07/13/futbolinternacional/01957630.html

and in English here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/premier_league/article6704125.ece

After weeks of speculation, Tevez has finally joined the club who have been considered the favorite for his signature all long. At first, I was rather critical of Tevez going there and not having Champions League football next season, but the more I read and think about it, this may be the best more for Carlitos.

Tevez was often left on the bench by Ferguson last season

Tevez was often left on the bench by Ferguson last season

For starters, he will have first team football at Eastlands, something he did not have week in week out at Manchester United. Tevez clearly thought he was treated unfairly by Sir Alex Ferguson, and playing for United’s city rivals will give him a chance to stick it to “the old man”, as Tevez called Fergie to Diego Maradona. Joorabchian, who serves as an adviser for City, was clearly motivated by proving Fergie wrong, along with the huge money going his way.

In his first season at United, Tevez scored more goals than Wayne Rooney, and scored extremely important goals against teams such as Blackburn, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Roma. After winning the Premier League and the Champions League, Sir Alex Ferguson bought Berbatov from Spurs, who was often preferred to Tevez early in the season. Berbatov struggled for United, and only managed 9 league goals in 2009, compared to 14 for Tevez in 2008. Tevez hustle and work rate endeared him to the United fans, while the languid Berbatov was berated for what fans thought was a lack of effort and commitment.

Later in the season, Berbatov was even left on the bench by Ferguson, but Tevez was still left out in favor of Ji Sung Park, particularly on Champions League nights, including the final. Although one can say that Tevez was immature in showing up Ferguson in the Manchester Derby, it was clear that he was always the last man out of the starting line up, and even when he started and played well (Arsenal in the first leg of the semifinals) he was substituted. One cannot blame Carlitos for leaving a situation he deemed unfair.

Tevez, the first big player from a big club to join this City summer, could help lure other stars such as John Terry or Emanuel Adebayor to the blue side of Manchester. Such signings could help Man City push for a place in Europe, and maybe even the Champions League. With Tevez, Gareth Barry, and Roque Santa Cruz already signed, City must feel that they are the most improved team in the Premier League. Liverpool have added England fullback Glenn Johnson, while Manchester United have brought in Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen, and Gabriel Obertan, hardly “galactico” signings.

With these new players, and perhaps more to come, City are on the verge of building one of the strongest teams in England. With Shay Given, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Pablo Zabaleta (former Argentina U20 Captain and Olympic Gold Medalist in 2008), Wayne Bridge, and Robinho all added last season, Tevez will join a completely rebuilt squad from Sven’s season there. The likes of Micah Richards, Steven Ireland, and a few others are the holdovers, and have City looking like they are building something special.

The way this will effect the Argentine National Team is clear: Tevez will be playing regularly unlike last year, but he will not have the rigors of the Champions League as well. Although a country like Argentina always wants their players playing at the highest level, Tevez will be fresher than he normally is without as many games. A fresh Tevez can only help Argentina in their bid to qualify.

Although I still think that Tevez has been more of a detriment than an asset during this qualifying campaign, he can still contribute to Argentina this season and down the line. Playing for City will also help Tevez assume more of a leadership position as one of the big players in the club, just as he was for West Ham and Corinthians. Few can argue that Tevez has been better when leading the line, rather than being the third option as he was at United.

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Higuain Must Perservere Through Adversity

After scoring 22 La Liga goals for Real Madrid, perhaps the biggest club in the World, most players are handed big contracts and chances to excel for their national team. For Gonzalo Higuain, this was not the case.

Higuain stepped in to fill the role of Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Dutchman was injured last season, and was arguably Madrid’s best player as they finished second in La Liga. It had been Higuain’s first opportunity to shine for the club in a starting position after playing more as a sub during his first two campaigns in Spain.

The leading scorer for Real Madrid would normally walk into any national team

The leading scorer for Real Madrid would normally walk into any national team

Since then, Real Madrid have gone on a monumental spending spree, perhaps ending Pipita’s reign as a starter.
Although Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo are not out-and-out strikers, there has been talk of Ronaldo playing in such a position. The club has also been linked to a classic center forward in David Villa, but after failing to capture the Spainiard’s signature, they settled on Frenchman Karim Benzema, who will look to start up front.

Benzema’s signing in particular puts Pipita in quite a predicament. It is unknown what formation Manuel Pellegrini will prefer, but it is quite possible that Higuain will be the odd man out.

Although rumors suggest that van Nistelrooy will depart the Bernabeu, Raul, the club captain and icon, is certain to remain. Raul, a classic Madridista, has enough pull in the dressing room, with club administrators, media, and fans to warrant a starting place under Pellegrini. The fact that he scored 18 goals last year despite being on the wrong side of 30 helps his claim.

It is unlikely that a player like Benzema, bought from Lyon for €35 million, will be put on the bench. It may be unfair, not only considering how well Pipita did leading the line last year, but also because of his super sub par performances during Madrid’s back-to-back La Liga titles in 2007 and 2008. Such is life at Real Madrid.

While Higuain was starting up front, linking up well with Raul and Arjen Robben, Madrid never struggled to score goals. In fact, had they not conceded six in a humiliating performance against Barcelona in the Bernabeu, Madrid could have taken enough momentum from the Catalans to win the league.

The problem was never Higuain, but a back line with the likes of Cannavaro and Heinze, whose horrendous performances could have been even worse had it not been for the heroics of “San Iker” Casillas in goal. Although Raul Albiol has replaced Canna, the rest of the back line remains unchanged thus far.

We will certainly learn a great deal about Pipita’s character if he is again relegated to the bench. If he is able to keep his place in the lineup, we will see a man who persevered when others tried to replace him. If he does not, Higuain could go down the path of many one-season wonders.

Higuain’s perseverance must also apply to his desire to play for Argentina. Boss Diego Maradona has constantly said things like, “I know he had a great season but I now have other players of a lot of importance in that position.”

While he may have players he considers important, Higuain is the No. 9 the Argentine fans and media are craving to partner Lionel MAdd an Imageessi in attack.

Instead, Maradona is refusing to bench Carlos Tevez, a player Maradona loves because they came from similar backgrounds and both played for Boca Juniors. Tevez has a horrible scoring record for his country (50 caps, eight goals), and is one of the biggest reasons Argentina have struggled to qualify, having received two red cards, both before the half hour mark, and missing an important penalty against Ecuador despite pleas from Messi to take it.

Tevez has done more harm than good for Argentina this campaign

Tevez has done more harm than good for Argentina this campaign

Higuain is most likely struggling to play for Maradona because he sat out of the Olympics in order to rest, at the urging of Madrid. Maradona has said that any player who turns down the shirt will not play while he is boss, although he has since contradicted himself by claiming the door is open for Roman Riquelme to return, despite retiring from international football twice.
Having played for Maradona’s archrival club, River Plate, cannot help Pipita’s cause.

The fact that Maradona is displaying such biases would crush most players, but Higuain is still stressing it is his dream to play for Argentina at the World Cup next summer. Some pundits have urged Higuain to play for the country of his birth, France. Although such a move would be unlikely, as Higuain doesn’t speak a word of French and was only born there because his Argentine father was playing football for Brest. He left the country when he was ten-months-old, and has no real connection with it, but he could swap national teams should Maradona continue to shun him.

If Higuain is able to gain a starting place amongst Real Madrid’s galacticos, and force his way into Maradona’s side, it will be a truly great achievement. If he doesn’t pull it off it will be sad, but few can blame Pipita’s effort on his predicament.

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What Next For Maradona?

When Walter Ayovi’s wonder goal flew past the outstretched arms of Argentina goalkeeper Mariano Andujar and into the back of the net, things began to look frighteningly similar to Argentina’s 6-1 defeat at the hands of Bolivia in April. After looking like the better of the two sides for the first seventy minutes, Diego Maradona’s men crumbled following Avyovi’s strike.

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In the early moments, there was no question Argentina was the better team, and after just three minutes, Lionel Messi ran at the Ecuador defense and laid the ball to Tevez, whose left footed shot forced a kick save from goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga, a recurring theme through out the match.

Messi dribbled through a host of defenders just minutes later, but Maxi Rodriguez was just offsides when Messi slipped him through on goal. In the eleventh minute, Tevez won the ball in midfield and freed up the much maligned Gabriel Heinze down the left side. The Real Madrid defender put in a perfect cross to Barcelona’s Messi, but somehow the future FIFA World Player of the Year missed the wide open goal opportunity.

Messi’s miss certainly summed up Argentina’s day, but it was by no means the low point. In the 28th minute, Messi played Tevez through on goal, and the former Boca Juniors striker was upended spectacularly by the on rushing Elizaga, who should have been sent off as the last man denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. Instead, he received only a yellow card.

The referee played advantage at first, but Maxi drilled his shot into the side, netting with the wide-open goal. Nonetheless, Argentina still had a penalty opportunity, which was taken by Tevez. Messi and Maxi both take penalty shots regularly for their clubs, and Tevez had not taken one since the Carling Cup final in January. Tevez went on to hit a truly pathetic penalty after an over exaggerated run up to the ball, in which Elizaga saved easily.

Although Argentina went into the half with the score still tied at zero, it appeared as though they should have been leading. Maradona perhaps put it best by saying to FIFA.com, “They didn’t do anything in the first half. In the second half, they got a couple of rebounds and they scored two goals. If we had scored a goal, it would have finished the game off.”

While his statement is clearly true, the bottom line is that Argentina could not capitalize on their many opportunities, and then fell apart in the last twenty minutes. In the second half, Messi went on one of his trademark runs but could only fire into the side netting. Before that, Heinze played a ball across the area looking for Messi. The flailing Elizaga got a hand to it, but could only deflect it into the path of Fernando Gago, whose low shot was saved by Elizaga.

Maradona cannot be blamed for missing so many chances, but he does hold the responsibility to the players participating. Although tactically the game plan was sound, the players Maradona continuously uses are not the best the country has to offer.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than when Argentina went down a goal and turned to the 34 year old Juan Sebastian Veron as their super sub. The former Manchester United and Chelsea midfielder added absolutely nothing to the game. His passes were mis-timed and his touch was terribly off.

Argentina must now treat each of their last four games as if they were part of the knockout stages of the World Cup Finals itself. The first two of these take place against two of the top teams in the group: Brazil at home, before traveling to Asuncion to face Paraguay.
Argentina is five points behind Brazil, and a victory against their arch-rivals would go a long way to ensuring a spot in South Africa. Paraguay lead Argentina by just two points, but La Seleccion must beat Brazil to keep pace, as one would expect Paraguay to wipe the floor with Bolivia at home in their next match.

What has happened to Argentina since they were ranked number one in the world two summers ago? In 2007, Argentina was at their best, tearing through the Copa America, where they lost tragically in the final to Brazil. In that tournament, Coco Basile put Argentina in their best possible formation and system, one that revolved around Juan Roman Riquelme, who has scored 18 goals in 54 games for Argentina, including five in that tournament.

Since Riquelme fell out with Maradona, Argentina has missed his passing range, set pieces, and his ability to score from midfield. In that same Copa America, Basile relied on Hernan Crespo to spearhead the attack.

Crespo, 35 goals in 66 caps, is another player who Maradona has been unable to replace. On that team, Messi was able to play out wide, or just behind Crespo, while allowing Riquelme to be the creator. Since Maradona will not apologize to Riquelme, and Diego Milito has shown none of the qualities of Crespo, it seems Maradona must turn to two players he has refused to call up: Gonzalo Higuain and Esteban Cambiaso.

Ideally, Cucho Cambiaso would partner Javier Mascherano in midfield, with Higuian leading the attack. Tevez could then be allowed to play in a deeper role, something he does regularly for United, and Messi could play more of a free role out wide, or cutting in just behind Higuain.

If Maradona does not make drastic changes soon, he will be watching the World Cup at home next summer with everyone else.

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Javier Zanetti: Argentina’s Forgotten Captain

When Argentina went into the dressing room at half time tied with Colombia, something was definitely missing from Argentina’s team as they looked frantic and were forced scramble any time Colombia attacked.

Diego Maradona’s decision to play three forwards and three defenders was certainly a terrible error, and at the half he not only reverted to a 4-4-2, but he brought the missing piece to Argentina’s defense: Javier Zanetti.

Zanetti was Argentina's captain under Basile

Zanetti was Argentina's captain under Basile

Zanetti had started every game in this qualifying campaign before losing his place to Daniel Diaz, who scored the winning goal but was guilty of a few horrendous defensive blunders that would have led to goals against a better attacking side. Zanetti ultimately came in, adding balance to Argentina’s formation as well as putting a calming influence over the game.

Maradona’s decision to leave the Inter captain on the bench sums up the way Zanetti has been treated by the national team over the years.

In 2006, “Pupi” was left out of the World Cup squad in favor of Lionel Scaloni, a laughable decision by coach Jose Peckerman, and one that may have ultimately cost him the World Cup. Although Zanetti was certainly disappointed to be left out, he did not throw a fit, and pledged to support his nation despite not going to the tournament.

This series of events epitomizes a man who is well know for his charities as well as winning the last four Scudetti with Inter. Zanetti was eventually called back to the national team, and was gracious to Coco Basile for being included. Eventually, Zanetti became captain of the side after Roberto Ayala retired following the 2007 Copa America.

His captaincy ended under peculiar circumstances, when Diego Maradona became manager and stripped him of the armband. He gave it to Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, who had less than half the caps of Zanetti. Mascherano was reluctant to take the role of skipper stating that Zanetti was the rightful captain.

In the end, Maradona essentially forced Mascherano to take the armband, leaving Zanetti slighted again. Lesser men would have wined and quit the national team for being robbed of the captaincy for no apparent reason. Zanetti did nothing of the sort, and continued to play on without stirring up anything in the media. Although most new coaches often change captain, Maradona’s decision was strange because Mascherano publicly said he did not think he was the right man for the job.

Zanetti continued to play well with Inter under Jose Mourinho, who often deployed him as a right-sided midfielder or left back, rather than right back, his preferred position with Argentina, showing versatility and desire to help the team in any possible way.

Zanetti is clearly Inter’s most humble servant, having appeared in at least 37 games each season since moving to the San Siro from Banfield in 1995. His class and respect for the game was also shown when he allowed the retiring Luis Figo to take the role of captain in his last match, a gesture Maradona could perhaps learn from.

Although Zanetti looks set to start on Wednesday against Ecuador, Maradona will give the armband to error prone Real Madrid defender Gabriel Heinze. Zanetti will most likely say nothing, but will have to be disappointed. Although he won’t be wearing the armband, Zanetti’s desire, hard work, and ability to push forward will be the example younger players look to.

Zanetti’s decision to let his play do the talking is certainly a commendable one, and it is certainly a shame the way he has been treated by Maradona. He has been called “the Argentine Maldini,” and as Zanetti racks up the caps (he’s at 133 now) and trophies at Inter, he will cement himself as perhaps the greatest Argentine defender of all, both on and off the pitch. Too bad his own coach doesn’t recognize this.

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Estudiantes Duo Set To Start

Reports out of Argentina indicate that Diego Maradona will include Estudiantes de La Plata captain Juan Sebastian Veron in his starting eleven against Colombia on Saturday. Veron, 34, has 61 caps but has appeared only once during this World Cup Qualifying campaign, playing as a substitute in Argentina’s 4-0 win against Venezuela in March.

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Veron’s Estudiantes’ teammate Mariano Andujar, who has never played for Argentina, will also start becoming the third different goalkeeper to feature for Argentina since the campaign began in October, 2007.

The two are riding the success of being the only Argentine side left in the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores, and they are favorites to advance to the semis after a 1-0 win on the road against Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting in the first leg of their matchup.

It appears that Maradona will play with a three-man backline just as he did against Venezuela, with Getafe’s Daniel Diaz starting for another Estudiantes player, Marcos Angeleri, who is out with an injury.

Bayern Munich’s Martin Demichelis, suspended for the Venezueal game, will come in for Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti, ending his streak of starting all of the matches in this campaign to date.

In the midfield, Fernando Gago, Javier Mascherno and Jonas Gutierrez all retain their places, but Maxi Rodriguez will be left out in favor of Veron, who will play more centrally and in an advanced role.

Bringing in Veron will certainly be a gamble, as it gives less help to Gago when Colombia attack down Argentina’s right, since there will be no winger to track back. Maradona is looking to show that he saw something in Veron when everyone else was calling for his head.

While I have never been a fan of Veron, I certainly hope he performs, for there is no doubt the boos and whistles he faced when he came on as a substitute in March will be there again if he is anything less than stellar.

Up front, Maradona will again deploy his “pequenos”, with the diminutive striking trio of Messi, Aguero, and Tevez. Although no one can argue with the way these three performed in their last outing together, Maradona is again trying to prove his critics wrong.

Almost all media outlets are calling for a target man to be included, but Maradona is determined to play only in his way, despite having an inform “number nine” in new Inter signing Diego Milito, who scored 24 goals for Genoa in Serie A this season.

While a classic center forward could be useful, Maradona will keep his faith in Tevez, after resurrecting his career with the National Team.

Carlitos was sent of twice (including the first game against Colombia) in the qualifiers and had not scored since a match against the USA in the 2007 Copa America, but Maradona has been a mentor for Tevez just as much as a coach, giving him advice on where to move next season as well as handing him a starting place.

Maradona holds a special affection for Tevez, as they both came from the slums of Buenos Aires to achieve glory, and who can blame El Diego for giving Tevez another chance, especially considering his recent displays at Manchester United.

Although I have been critical of Maradona, I see only one place in this line up where a problem could arise, but continuing to question the inclusion of Heinze is pointless, as it appears he is as good as a lock under Maradona as Messi (the only player other than Zanetti to have started all the qualifiers).

Veron’s inclusion may be a questionable decision, but his presence will allow Argentina to control the ball, which should be their best type of defense. The former Chelsea man can hopefully improve the woeful set pieces as well.

While I know Veron has been one of my main targets, I never disputed that he could play and contribute now, but it is doubtful he will be in the same form a year from now against some of the world’s best teams, but that bridge will be crossed when and if qualification is ensured.

I must also commend Maradona on starting Andujar over benched Lazio keeper Carrizo. It is imperative for international managers to start the in-form goalkeeper, and Maradona has done just that.

Andujar has been impeccable for Estudiantes this season, particularly in the Libertadores and in a recent league match against Hurucan, where he pulled off multiple saves in one-on-one situations.

I think Argentina should have no problem defeating Colombia in Buenos Aires with this line-up, and on paper it should be as easy as the Venezuela match. Colombia have managed just six goals in 12 qualifying games, showing their offensive deficiencies.

That does not mean Argentina should take their opponents lightly, for if Uruguay defeat Brazil in the early game Saturday, Argentina will be out of the automatic spots for the World Cup at kick off.

Even if Uruguay lose, a win is imperative for Argentina because their trip to Montevideo on the last match day looms in October, and the World Cup could be on the line at that point. Argentina must also face their demons at altitude against Ecuador in three days time, meaning all matches are now a cup finals.

Either way, look for Argentina to put the mauling in La Paz behind them, control the ball, and win this match two or three nil.

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Maradona Making a Mess for Argentina

After watching Lionel Messi achieve Champions League glory with Barcelona this week, many Argentines turned their attention to the Albiceleste’s chances in South Africa.

Few nations can boast the stars of Argentina, many of which are young and contributed to the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Gold Medals, and the 2005 and 2007 U20 World Cups. When Alfio Basile resigned from the National Team in October, 1986 World Cup winner Sergio Batista was the natural successor, as he had won the Olympic Gold while finally getting Riquelme and Messi to play together.

Instead, the AFA made a costly move and inserted Batista’s World Cup teammate, Diego Maradona.

While Batista would have most likely relied on the youth movement and cleared out many aging stars of the past, Maradona has done nothing of the sort. While relying on motivational speeches rather than tactics, Maradona lost 6-1 to Bolivia leaving Argentina with an uphill battle to reach the World Cup.

Maradona’s tactics at altitude left his team in an awful situation, but one must look at the lists of players Maradona is using to see the real flaws. Maradona’s goalkeeper, Juan Pablo Carizzo, had been in terrible form for Lazio, and eventually lost his starting place.

Despite this, Maradona called up the former River Plate man, who was at fault for at least three of Bolivia’s goals, and was nearly embarrassed for a 7th when trying to play with his feet.

Maradona also continues to call up Real Madrid defender Gabriel Heinze. While Maradona loves Heinze for his fighting spirit, the man has simply lost the plot at the Bernebeu this season. Any right winger, such as Messi, relishes the chance to face Heinze, and the proof is visible in Barca’s 6-2 rout of Madrid, and Liverpool’s 4-0 win against them at Anfield.

Heinze has also failed at the international level, and scored an awful own goal against Paraguay.

Another puzzling call up is that of Juan Sebastian Veron. Although Veron has been in decent form for Estudiantes, as they are in the driver’s seat in their quarterfinal match-up with Defensor, after winning 1-0 in Uruguay, his place in the national team makes no sense.

Veron has been given a chance with the national team in a World Cup, and we all know how that ended. Veron’s inclusion is even more disturbing considering the only other classic “enganche” playing in the Argentine League has refused to play under Maradona.

The absence of Juan Roman Riquelme is one that may haunt Argentina in their run up to the World Cup. As Xavi and Andres Iniesta have shown for Spain at Euro 2008, and for Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League, playing the ball along the ground and keeping possession are the keys to success in today’s game.

Riquelme is an elegant playmaker much like Xavi, and would be the man in the Argentine side to control the pace of the game, keep the ball, and spray passes to the likes of Messi and Aguero. While Riquelme would certainly be invaluable, Maradona’s disagreement with and subsequent public criticism has seen Riquelme make himself unavailable for selection.

Boca playmaker Riquelme will not play for Argentina under Maradona

Boca playmaker Riquelme will not play for Argentina under Maradona

Maradona has not only forced Riquelme out of the team, but he has excluded many of the young stars who should be given a chance with the national team in favor of his favorites. Gonzalo Higuain has scored over 20 goals for Real Madrid this season, but his decision to sit out the Olympics has apparently angered Maradona enough to see him out of the squad.

Lazio’s Mauro Zarate, scorer of the winning goal in 2007 U20 World Cup final, has also been left out despite a fantastic run of form that included winning the Copa Italia.

Defender Gonzalo Rodriguez, who plays for Villarreal in Spain, has emerged as a key player for Pellegrini’s side, but has been kept out in favor of Heinze and Demichelis, both of whom have been horrible for their club sides this season.

Napoli keeper Nicolas Navarro has been on a hot streak of late, but there was no place for him in the team, as Carrizo, who remains idle at Lazio, was called up again inexplicably.

As anyone can see, Argentina have a team of stars who play on the world’s biggest clubs. They should be considered favorites for the World Cup along with Spain, if they get there.

The man Maradona must figure out a way get the defense playing better, find a goalkeeper who plays regularly for his club, and replace Riquelme. If he doesn’t turn it around soon, Argentina could be forced to have a play-off with a team from CONCACAF just to make it to South Africa.

What a travesty it would be for football if the likes of Messi, Mascherano, Tevez, and Aguero were not at the World Cup. We all hope Maradona can get it right.

Maradona has passed on the 10 shirt to Messi

Maradona has passed on the 10 shirt to Messi

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