Monday, 19 March 2007

The Boy From Fuerte Apache

It is a slow news day so it gives me an excuse to feature a nice article I found about Carlos Tevez. It was written around 2004 but beyond that I have no further details...

The Boy from Fuerte Apache

He grew up in poverty loving Boca Juniors above all else. He has wild talent, unpredictable moves and amazing accleration. His football is magical, his goals exceptional. But he can't score with his head and his tongue flops out when he dribbles or shoots.

In a country where the 'new Maradona' label attaches itself to any half-decent youngster, 19-year-old Carlos Tevez is undoubtedly the closest thing yet. He even made his professional debut against the same team, Talleres de Cordoba. The only noticeable difference is that Tevez is right-footed.

Even Maradona sees himself in Boca Juniors' current maestro. "The things he does with the ball!" gasps the legendary Argentinian. "The first time I watched him, so tiny, at La Bombonera (Boca's stadium), he reminded me of myself."

Five foot eight and stockily-built, dressed head to toe in Nike training gear including his customary woolly hat (he has one for each day of the week; today's is black), Carlos Tevez has little of the air of a star about him when we meet at Boca's Casa Amarilla (yellow house) training ground. Sitting by the edge of a training pitch, the recently-crowned 2003 South American Player of the Year smiles when Maradona's name is mentioned. "The comparison with Diego is something to be proud of, but I don't think I deserve it," he says. "There was only one Maradona and there'll never be another. Perhaps I've picked up some movements because I learned to play football watching him on telly - and on the pitch when I was lucky enough to go to a football match, which wasn't often - but it's craziness to compare me to him. He delivered so much joy to the people. He was a World Champion, he was in Europe for so many years. Me? I'm a pibe (a boy), I'm just starting."

As he prepares to leave his teenage years behind on February 5, the reminders of Tevez's youth are everywhere. When Boca travelled to Tokyo for the Intercontinental Cup against Milan. Tevez felt more uncomfortable than he ever had when marked by rugged Argentinian defenders in important matches. The reason? The specially tailored suits the club had ordered. "I've never worn a suit or a tie in my life," he complained. "It's strange, I really can't see myself getting into that."

But it's on the training ground that the pibe spirit burns brightest. Out there he's a magnet. Laces undone, twisting, turning, trying Higuita's Scorpion Kick; whatever he does, Tevez is the centre of attention. People adore him because they see a little boy having fun, a kid who encapsulates both the amateur spirit and the age-old tale of the fan who becomes part of the team. In his spare time, Tevez even calls his four brothers out for a game, kicking around plastic bottles or whatever else he can find.

Already sportswear giants, Nike, are preparing to turn Tevez into the new Ronaldinho, believing that his charisma, style and poverty-stricken background are perfect for the South American market, and newspaper La Nacion recently commented: "Tevez is capable of becoming Boca's greatest ever idol, for he sums up characteristics of the four greatest idols of the club in his position. The explosiveness of Maradona, the feint of Angel Clemente Rojas, the physical strength of Alberto Marcico, and the sense of being the creative axis of the team so typical of Juan Roman Riquelme."

For Marcico, who coached him in 2002 as Boca's assistant manager, Tevez is already above his contemporaries: "(Pablo) Aimar, Riquelme, (Ariel) Ortega, (Andres) D'Alessandro, they're all great players. But Tevez is the most explosive player since Maradona. He's more complete than the rest. He's got personality and stamina, and he's equally aggressive when he has the ball or when he has to go and get it. Whatever stadium he plays in, he performs the same way. He's magnificent."

A broken tooth, a neck covered in scars from an accident with boiling water and his 'Apache' nickname are the tell-tale signs of Tevez's tough childhood. Fuerte Apache is perhaps the poorest, most dangerous of Buenos Aires's suburbs, a place where even the police fear to tread.

Tevez grew up with money scarce and simply feeding the family a constant battle. "So many people had to live with the things I had to," he says. "But the hunger vanished with an 'I love you' from our dads. That's the way it was for us."

In that environment, Tevez learnt one basic law: only the strongest survive. It was a lesson he would take to the potrero, the neighbourhood football pitch, full of stones, cans, craters and violence. There he learned to play football the hard way. "They say there's pressure at La Bombonera," says Tevez. "What pressure? The real pressure is at a potrero where everything is allowed, where nobody protects you, where you're playing against older and tougher lads! At the potrero, you work out how to do a bit of everything: go up and down, mark and play. You learn to cover the ball and to put up with heavy knocks.

"We played matches where the winners got sandwiches and Cokes (paid for by the losers) and they were terrific. The lowest tackle was around the neck, but you had to accept it. The prize was the prize and the honour was honour." If he had it his way, Tevez would still be playing there, "but I'm a professional now and have to take care of myself," he explains.

No sooner had Boca discovered Tevez's potential than they took him out of the potreros and out of Apache. One of his closest friends, Dario, had recently been shot to death. At Boca, Tevez quickly became friends with another dazzling young footballer, five years his senior. The star of the first team, Juan Roman Riquelme had himself been labelled the new Maradona and, like Tevez, came from a villa (shanty town).

"Roman is like my brother," says Tevez. "We both came from poor families and he helped me a lot. He always gave me things - shoes, jerseys - and he talked to me when I still hadn't played a match."

A few months after his debut for the reserves, Sunderland made an offer for Tevez. Boca turned it down flat. In October 2001, he made his first-team bow. Then, two weeks later, Riquelme was sold to Barcelona. "Roman came to see me and told me something I won't forget," recalls Tevez of his friend's departure. "He said: 'I'm leaving, but you're going be the leader of Boca now. If the team plays badly, it's your fault. And if it plays well, it's because of you. Face the fact that you're the conductor, the director.'"

Still only 18, Tevez faced it. "Playing for the reserves, he would win matches on his own," recalls Heber Mastrangelo, boss of Boca's youth teams, where Tevez scored 72 goals in three years. "He'd just grab the ball and dribble past everybody, opponents, team-mates, the referee. Amazing."

In the first-team, he appeared to play as if nothing had changed, but Tevez concedes that it was hard without Riquelme. "I had only just made my debut when Roman was sold, and the tag of being the successor to Riquelme was crazy too! Riquelme is almost at the level of Maradona: there will never be another player like him."

He also had to deal with his new-found fame. "How did I not get confused? Simple: by understanding that I'm Tevez and not Maradona. And besides that, luxuries are not important to me. You'll never see me in limousines or drinking champagne. I'm from the neighbourhood, a simple lad. I'm the same as I've always been. Maybe I'm a bit more famous to other people now, but that doesn't stop me doing the things I always did. I hang out with my best friends, drink mate (Argentinian tea) with them, play cards, I visit Apache, we spend hours playing PlayStation. I'm Carlitos, as always. The difference is that I'm on TV and in magazines now, but I don't believe the hype. I try to keep looking forward, otherwise I'll be a failure."

In 2002, Tevez came to England to play Manchester United at Old Trafford. The match would demonstrate another similarity to Maradona, a short temper. Reacting to a scything challenge from Paul Scholes, Tevez was sent off, but his memories of the visit are positive.

"I have David Beckham's shirt hanging in my room, alongside Riquelme's boots," he says. "Old Trafford is a superb ground. It's funny to have the supporters two metres away from you, though. In Argentina that would be impossible; they'd jump on to the pitch and steal the ball (laughs). Besides, the people were all sitting, neat and tidy, and no one threw anything - it was like playing at the theatre!"

For Tevez, there's no place like home. "I've played at Old Trafford, the Nou Camp and the Morumbi (in Sao Paolo) packed with 100,000 Brazilians, but nothing compares to La Bombonera. Do you know how it feels to be there? Mamma mia! It's awesome. You hear everything, the crowd sings the entire match, and sometimes you can feel the vibrations. You don't believe that the stadium actually trembles until you experience a match there. It's unique."

Back at La Bombonera, Tevez moved to the next level, but only after Boca manager, Carlos Bianchi had decided to play his star man further forward. Tevez says he admires four players - Maradona, Riquelme, Ronaldo and Gabriel Batistuta. The names are relevant because in Argentina the debate still rages over where he should play. He shines in midfield or up front. But is he a playmaker? Or a striker?

Bianchi, himself a prolific goalscorer, had no doubts when asked in early 2003. "For me, he is a forward, but he needs to add some of the secrets of the striker's position to his game. The champagne goals are important, but the banal goals really make the difference. I want him to score more banal goals."

Three months later, Tevez became the leading goalscorer in the Torneo Apertura with eight goals in 11 matches, plus his usual share of assists, as Boca streaked to the championship. Shortly after, he inspired his team-mates to Copa Libertadores glory.

Unsurprisingly, European clubs took notice. Bayern Munich have already made two offers, both rejected. Bayern vice president, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, believes Boca will settle for E20m, but according to Boca chairman Mauricio Macri, Tevez will remain there for at least two more years.

"Look, I don't drive myself mad thinking of Europe," is Tevez's view. "The guita (dosh) doesn't drive me mad and at Boca I'm very happy. I'm just a boy, I still want to go out with my friends and my family, things that I couldn't do in Europe because they wouldn't be there. Perhaps later I'd like to try European football, to be among all the 'monsters' who play there?"

If - or when - he does go to Europe, Tevez may yet spring a surprise. "If you'd asked me a year ago, I would have said I would most want to go to Barcelona, but nowadays, it's Villarreal," he says. "Why? Simple, to play with my friend Roman. The things we would do there! And Spain would be easier for me because of the language."

Villareal? Spain? Alberto Marcico believes Tevez can conquer the entire football world. "He's already the best Argentinian player in the world and soon he will play in Europe and show his qualities to them, as he did in South America winning the Copa Libertadores on his own. He's not only a Boca idol, he's the one player who supporters from all the teams want in the national team. That's because it's clear he loves and breathes football."

He certainly does. Recently, Boca made a generous offer that most 19-year-olds would accept in the blink of an eye: an appointment with a highly-regarded plastic surgeon who would remove the scars from his neck. When Tevez found out that he would need four months of rehabilitation, his answer was immediate. "What!?! Four months! First, if someone doesn't like how I look, it's his problem, not mine. And second, are you out of your mind? I could never go so long without playing football!"

And with that, he called to his brothers, found a ball and began to play.


ed said...

Shame we've probably only got a few more games to watch him in.

I like the blog and thanks for the link. I've added a link to Just Like My Dreams on my blog.

ed said...

Sorry, I should have have said, my blog is Hammered.

Anonymous said...

Hola lectura d este blog es muy interesantes , Reflexiones de esta manera dignificaan quien visitar esta página web.....


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