Tevez committed to the cause

Published : May 09, 2009 00:00 IST

Alex Ferguson had been impressed by Carlos Tevez's contribution at Old Trafford, when the Argentine international came on at half-time to inspire United's spectacular five-goal revival against Tottenham Hotspur as part of an all-singing, all-dancing four-man forward line, writes Richard Williams.

Faint heart never won fair lady, Sir Alex Ferguson mused in the run-up to the Champions League tie against Arsenal, which may or may not have been an unconscious attempt to match the casual lyricism of Arsene Wenger's old remark about everyone thinking they have the prettiest wife at home.

The Manchester United manager certainly showed himself willing to take a risk by leaving Dimitar Berbatov, last summer's GBP30 million capture from Tottenham Hotspur, on the bench while installing Carlos Tevez, a ferocious bundle of competitive desire whose future at the club is uncertain, at the point of his attack for the first leg of this crucial tie. Ferguson had been impressed by Tevez's contribution at Old Trafford, when the Argentine international came on at half-time to inspire United's spectacular five-goal revival against Tottenham Hotspur as part of an all-singing, all-dancing fourman forward line.

THE MANAGER EVEN SAID he was toying with the idea of picking the quartet en bloc for the match against Arsenal. But that turned out to be merely for public consumption, and the team sheet revealed that his costly Bulgarian striker had been stood down, to the benefit of a player whose transparent commitment to the cause has made him a favourite of the Old Trafford crowd. Fans love a player whose approach shows them that he simply wants to play. The players are their representatives, doing a job they would love to do, and it is harder for a semi-detached spirit such as Berbatov to win their affection - as opposed to their admiration - than for the wholehearted type that Tevez obviously is.

In his time as the king of these parts, Eric Cantona gave the impression of detachment, but his deeds quickly revealed the truth of the matter and worship was his reward. Old Trafford has yet to discover whether Berbatov yearns to emulate Cantona's example, but they are in no doubt about Tevez's aspirations.

PARTICULARLY KEEN TO START the big games, Tevez has been making noises about leaving in the summer and is known to be wanted by Real Madrid, where he would join such compatriots as Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago.

To keep him on a permanent basis at the end of his GBP10 million two-year loan period, Ferguson needs to stump up a further GBP22 million. There was a feeling that the outcome of the match against Arsenal would go a considerable way to helping him make up his mind.

"I DON'T WANT HIM TO BE unhappy, that's for sure, because he is an important player for us," Ferguson said before the match. "I think he genuinely wants to stay and that is something we are trying to work toward - I have told him that repeatedly. Maybe at the end of the season if he has won something or achieved something, he will look at the overall picture and realise that he has made a contribution."

But medals are not everything to some players. Tevez finished last season having won the European Cup and the Premier League, and in the autumn added FIFA's World Club Championship, in which he started both matches. Tevez, however, just wants to play. More assertive and energetic than Berbatov, he demonstrated his ability to bring others into play and to inject pace and intensity into United's attacks.

HE HAS A GOOD VISION of the game, and in the first-half there were clever passes to Cristiano Ronaldo and Anderson that might have brought greater profit. Once he skimmed past Kieran Gibbs on the right and floated in a textbook cross which the unmarked Ronaldo headed down virtually from point-blank range, only to see Manuel Almunia produce a fine plunging save.

Tevez also played an indirect role in John O'Shea's opening goal when he won a corner by forcing Almunia into a desperate double save. Michael Carrick returned Anderson's corner across the goal and O'Shea brusquely lashed it into the roof of the net.

Tevez should have scored with his first shot, when he slipped Ronaldo's pass wide to O'Shea and ran on to meet the return with a sidefooted effort that Almunia dived to parry before spreading himself to block the Argentine's follow-up.

BUT THE CROWD LOVED IT just as much when he battled two Arsenal defenders to win nothing more than a throw-in. Then a rash challenge on Almunia, as he stretched to follow in his own slightly too heavy deflection, brought him a bruise and a booking and an ovation accompanied by a chant of "Arg-en-tina" as he waited on the touchline to return to the action. If he lacks Berbatov's enigmatic air and languid command of angles, Tevez brings compensating qualities to which English football fans can easily respond. Were he to fetch up at the Bernabeu next season, it would be easy to imagine him scoring goals by the hatful. And as he was withdrawn in favour of Berbatov just after the hour mark, shaking his head as he went, there was the extraordinary sound again of that chant of "Arg-en-tina" coming from all sides of the ground and overwhelming even the applause for the simultaneous arrival of Ryan Giggs, who was making his 800th appearance for the club. It had not been hard to see why United's fans are loath to accept the idea of losing him.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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