Friday, 16 March 2007

Tevez: I'm Not Fat But...

Sportsmail's Lee Clayton has an exclusive interview with Carlos Tevez, 'the world superstar who has found himself stuck in the Premiership's relegation dogfight.' It's a bittersweet read and it's reproduced here as possibly one of the last interviews with Tevez as a West Ham player.

Tevez: I'm not fat but I love your fish and chips
By Lee Clayton

'So, who plays the most beautiful football. Is it Argentina - or is it Brazil?’

Introduced by Eric Cantona, starring Carlos Tevez, first in the colours of his beloved Boca Juniors and then Corinthians. Goals in Argentina, goals in Brazil. Goals, goals, goals. The South American Nike advertisement is part of a lucrative eight-year contract with the little striker, who has travelled a long way from the slums of Buenos Aires.

Go to YouTube and you too can see the evidence of Tevez and his glorious goals. Left foot, right foot, free kicks, volleys, penalties, a hat-trick against Santos, a mazy dribble through a forest of Serbian defenders in the World Cup Finals. One movie, lasting nine minutes and thirty seconds, is enthusiastically titled 'The best footballer in the world’.

Eight goals in six matches on his way to Olympic gold for his country in 2004, goals that won championships on both sides of the great South American divide, goals that won the Copa Libertadores, the Intercontinental Cup, the Copa Sudamerica and Brazil‘s prestigious Golden Ball. And still just 23.

Tevez and his talents are big business. So what the hell is he doing, sitting here in East London, talking to me about enjoying fish and chips, golf and the mild English weather?

"This is a beautiful league," he promises. "Sure, it was difficult when I first came, but I am very happy to be here, in England."

He is believable too.

"It’s true, I struggled at first. You must be in supreme physical condition. If your body isn’t right, you cannot play in the Premier League. I could not find my rhythm, playing right midfield, left midfield. I was told to mark opponents! This is not my game. I am a striker, a goalscorer. That is my art."

Though the evidence from across the world shows this to be true, one goal in 17 games (ten starts) in England would suggest otherwise, but he is playing for a struggling team in desperate times. West Ham are bottom of the Premiership and, even the powers of Tevez cannot save them from this self-inflicted crash.

"No, no, no," he disagrees. "I can see the league table, I can see we are in trouble, but I will not accept relegation. In the last twenty days, my condition is great. I want to score the goals to keep West Ham in the Premier League. I will do all that I can. It will be hard, but I need to repay the supporters for their love."

His dazzling performance against Tottenham in the 4-3 defeat two weeks ago suggests something is belatedly beginning to stir. Though he may be in better shape, he’s still, as they say in these parts, carrying some timber. A little overweight? "No, I need my weight for strength, like Wayne Rooney or Paul Gascoigne," he assures me.

His presence appears to have inspired the supporters more than his team-mates, who have consistently failed to step up to the mark. One man alone cannot save a team and there are times when he has been guilty of trying too hard, keeping hold of the ball for too long. Maybe he doesn't trust that a pass will be returned.

He seems committed - for now - despite the turmoil. Though a fixture list likely to include trips to Scunthorpe and Barnsley next season, he must surely be looking towards an escape route in the summer. He is ready for the question.

"I cannot allow the thought to enter my head. What I want is that we can pull together and save the season. So I can’t answer your questions about playing in the Second Division (Championship). I am not interested in thinking about another club in June. That would be disrespectful to West Ham. I’ve been very touched by the support of the fans. The whole situation has been very difficult, for me. Maybe it has been confusing for them too."

Confusing it certainly has been.

Take one World class footballer, once courted by Manchester United and Barcelona, and place him in an unlikely new home, along with another familiar face from the World Cup, Javier Mascherano. Both are owned by Kia Joorabchian, one of the businessmen seeking to buy the club. Results, however, are poor and the team drops into the bottom three. Tevez is not given time to adapt, he is played out of position and then dropped as West Ham go seven games without scoring; the manager is sacked, a new manager fails to arrest the collapse and West Ham hit rock bottom.

And then Premier League investigate the complicated nature of the original transfer and threaten West Ham with a points deduction!

Fresh from another round of golf, Tevez is untouched by the drama, it seems.

"I have no regrets. This has not been a bad transfer for me. I came here, to a progressive club, to join forces with the young, home players. I thought we could go to the next level. But we have not. Yes, I was frustrated when I wasn’t being selected, when I was being asked to play in different positions.

"Alan Curbishley, the coach, has spoken often with me. He is very good. It has been difficult for him, with all the injuries, but I have a respect for him, because he has given me confidence. Pardew was here before me and he too helped me, he tried to get me to adapt, he wasn’t bad to me.

"My team-mates have been supportive, they are with me. We are not a dressing room at war, we are a group of players who haven’t had very much luck. I haven’t seen anything bad inside the club, but we have not functioned well.

"I am very grateful to the fans. This is another experience for me and one that I will learn from. I have not been used to such adversity.

"I say here to you that I want to repay the fans. I will do whatever I can to keep the club in the Premier League. For them, for the people. When I scored against Tottenham, I went to the people and celebrated with them. They have supported me, the goal was for them, the emotion was for them.

"But I have also been used to playing for clubs where the supporters come from the ground, like me (local support). This is why I like to be at West Ham. I understand the needs and demands of the people and they understand me. I hope I can give them special moments.

"I can say this. If I can play at West Ham in such a difficult position, then it’s easier to play for a bigger club, with players such as Rooney, Ronaldo or Drogba. I would be capable of playing at any English team, because the English game is no longer a problem for me."

He misses his friend Mascherano, now at Anfield. "Yes, he is my great friend and he was so unhappy. Now, when I speak to him, I can see that he is happy again."

It's not inconceivable that Tevez will stay in England, even if West Ham are relegated.

He is enjoying London. "I like the food, it has been excellent. I especially enjoy fish and chips. And the weather has been mild, not as cold as I expected."

What about the traffic? "Have you ever driven in Sao Paulo?" he asks.

It's worth remembering too that there were teething problems at Corinthians, after crossing the great South American divide. He was fined for turning up in an official press conference in a Manchester United shirt, he was fined for turning up to an away game in Bermuda shorts, he was fined for fighting with two team-mates.

Then the goals started.

The fans copied his braided hair cut, followed his celebration dance craze and bought the shirts by the thousand. Local newspapers called it the birth of Tevezmania. It’s fair to say that such a phenomenon has yet to reach the pages of the Newham Recorder.

West Ham supporters cannot, however, be faulted for their support.

Osvaldo Ardiles told me, soon before Tevez made his debut: "He will be fantastic, he will be West Ham’s Rooney, he is that type of player. He can score goals, he can create goals and he is going to right club at this stage of his development, a good club with good supporters, who will support him and encourage the right type of football."

Thierry Henry has certainly been impressed. Henry asked earlier this season: "When will you come to join me at Arsenal?"

"He was joking," Tevez reports. "He is a top guy." Joking? Maybe.

One can only wonder how things might have worked out if Dean Ashton had been fit to hold up the ball and allow with Tevez to work around him.

West Ham fans will probably never know.

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