Carlos Tevez should be grateful that Juventus sent a professional chauffeur. When another great Argentinian forward landed at Milan’s Malpensa airport back in the summer of 1957, it was the club’s own president who traveled north to greet him. Umberto Agnelli drove so fast on the roads back to Turin that Omar Sivori spent most of the journey praying for his life.
When the pair finally arrived at their destination, the player is said to have leapt from the passenger seat. “President, I think I will stay a long time here at Juventus,” he supposedly told his new employer. “But not long at all in cars driven by you.”
Memories of Sivori were at the forefront of Juventus supporters’ minds this week as news broke that their club had agreed a fee for Tevez with Manchester City. Much was made of the similarities between the two men – both of them technically gifted footballers who operated best in slightly deeper-lying roles. They were also both rather short, though even at 5ft 8ins, Tevez would still have towered over his predecessor.
Significantly, each man also had a reputation as a troublemaker. Sivori might never have refused to enter a game, as Tevez infamously did for City away to Bayern Munich in September 2011, but he did smoke, drink whisky, and play poker into the small hours of most mornings, routinely sleeping in until noon and showing up late, if at all, for training.
Of course, it is also true that Tevez arrives in Turin at a very different point of his career to Sivori. Tevez is not a 21-year-old kid with a whole career ahead of him but a nearly-30-year-old man who is unlikely to stay with Juve beyond the three years of his contract.
Nevertheless, they will share another trait—they’ll both have worn Juve’s No10 shirt. There had been much speculation over whether that honour would be bestowed upon Tevez, and on Wednesday evening it was confirmed. The news was broken by the player himself, holding aloft his new jersey from the balcony of the club’s offices in Turin.
The move was backed enthusiastically by some fans but was met with outrage by others. Some believe that the number should have been retired when Alessandro Del Piero departed last year, though Del Piero himself has rejected such talk. “When I was a child, I dreamed of wearing that shirt,” he said. “I want others to be able to have that same dream.”
Tevez, of course, is unlikely to have thought of Juventus very much at all as he grew up in the tough Ejército de Los Andes neighbourhood near Buenos Aires, but he did not seem fazed by the responsibility that wearing such a number might bring. Asked what it would mean to wear the shirt worn by Sivori, Del Piero, Michel Platini and the rest, he reminded reporters he had been in a similar spot before.
“To have the No10 shirt is a beautiful responsibility, and one that I have already known,” said Tevez at his introductory press conference on Thursday. “At Boca Juniors I wore the shirt of Maradona. I respect the No10, and its appeal, but the real challenge is to work as hard as I can for the team.”
Such words must have been music to the years of Antonio Conte. The Juventus manager was married earlier this month, only returning from his honeymoon in Bora Bora at the start of this week. It is a safe bet that none of the wedding presents he received will have delighted him as much as the striker gifted to him by the club upon his return.
Juve’s pursuit of a “top player” up front has been a consistent theme of the last few transfer windows, but until now it had been one of the few areas in which the club’s general manager Beppe Marotta had consistently failed to deliver. Suffice to say that Nicklas Bendtner’s arrival on loan last summer did not fit the bill.
Determined to finally resolve the issue, Juventus were aggressive in their transfer strategy this summer, identifying Tevez, Stevan Jovetic and Gonzalo Higuaín as three realistic targets and making contact with all three players’ representatives. Personal terms were pre-emptively agreed with Higuaín, but Arsenal’s interest threatened to force Real Madrid’s asking price up beyond €25m. Fiorentina have been clear from day one in saying that Jovetic would cost even more than that.
Tevez rapidly came to appear as the most realistic option for a club whose resources have grown in recent years but which still fall a long way short of Europe’s richest.
At a directors’ meeting this week, Marotta’s transfer budget for the year was set at approximately €30m. With €13m of that already committed towards resolving co-ownership deals for Kwadwo Asamoah and Federico Peluso, and the club also working towards a bid for Torino’s centre-back Angelo Ogbonna, he had little room to manoeuvre.
To land Tevez for such a modest fee, then, was a coup. The figures quoted vary, but the consensus in Italy this morning was that Juventus had paid only €12m, if you include the eventual bonuses.
Yet it is not the frugality that will delight Conte so much as the identity of the player. The manager is understood to have always placed Tevez and Jovetic some way ahead of Higuaín in his order of preference for this summer’s transfer campaign.
It is not hard to see why Conte would like Tevez. The manager demands a high work-rate from his team, requiring his forwards to press the opposition high up the pitch as well as tracking back when necessary. Tevez has been accused of laziness in training at times down the years, yet during matches themselves he has a well-earned reputation as a grafter.
He also knows what it takes to win major trophies, having claimed three Premier League titles between his spells with United and City, as well as a Champions League trophy with the former. That element should not be underestimated. A ‘winning mentality’ might not seem like a very tangible quality, but it matters to Conte, a man who named his own daughter Vittoria.
More quantifiable are the goals that Juventus expect Tevez to bring to their team. The striker scored 11 times in 34 games for City last season, as well as leading the side with eight assists. Worth factoring into those statistics is the fact that he played a full 90 minutes in less than one-third of those fixtures.
For Juventus, of course, the most important factor will be Tevez’s ability to contribute in the Champions League. They will hope that Tevez can reprise the role he played for United in 2007-08, scoring four times in that tournament, as well as in the final shoot-out against Chelsea.
His arrival has already prompted speculation that Conte might be considering a tactical re-shuffle towards a 4-2-3-1, the manager having apparently concluded that his 3-5-2 functions less well in continental competition. Tevez could theoretically play anywhere along that second bank of three.
The question on many reporters’ lips this morning was whether Tevez might yet be joined by another big name this summer. Juventus have not yet abandoned their interest in Jovetic, but would need to sell before they could buy. Players such as Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella have been deemed surplus to requirements, but the club has so far struggled to drum up much interest.
That has led to the suggestion that the club might contemplate the departure of a more high-profile player. Some journalists believe that Claudio Marchisio has become expendable following the emergence of Paul Pogba.
For now, though, that is just speculation; the signing of Tevez is not. Shortly before the deal was confirmed, the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa compared Tevez to “a seasonal dish”, who “showed up every year on Juve’s summer menu, only to then disappear without ever showing up on the table.”
This time, at last, he has arrived. Time will tell if he was indeed just an appetizer, or in fact the main course.