Friday, 11 May 2007

No Fears Now For The Little Man

Carlos Tevez has told his West Ham team-mates he will quit Upton Park at the end of the season — no matter what happens. According to Pat Sheehan in The Sun, the Hammer of the Year will bring the curtain down by playing his final game for the club at Manchester United on Sunday, with AC Milan and Spanish side Seville slugging it out to sign him. Miraculously for what amounts to a double page spread in the paper there are no direct quotes, save one from Jorge Valdano, Real Madrid’s former director of football. He said: "Every time I see Tevez in a West Ham shirt the first thing that crosses my mind is that he’s wasting his time there." As the great man himself would doubtless point out: a story without any real quotes is not a story at all, it's just a 'shit hanging from a stick'.

There is a far more edifying Carlos Tevez read in The Times, with a beautifully rendered article by Gabriele Marcotti and Guillem Balague...

No Fears Now For The Little Man From Fort Apache: Carlos Tevez may be at the centre of a storm, but the striker's childhood in Buenos Aires ensures he can cope
By Gabriele Marcotti & Guillem Balague

Florencia sits on her father’s lap as comfortably and as lovingly as he might cradle a ball with his left foot. She is 2 and has found a new game. Her father lights the candle in front of her, she leans forward and, “ Uno, dos, tres,” she blows it out. Repetition only adds to the fun. Flame goes out. Flame comes on. Flame goes out. Flame comes on. There is always someone ready to light her candle after she blows out the flame.

Whatever Carlos Tévez’s future may bring – and, as yet, it is undecided, regardless of what transpires in West Ham United’s final match of the season, against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, and in the dispute over his registration – he is grateful for one thing: should the flame go out for his daughter, someone will be there to light it. She will be raised in a different world from the one Tévez knew as a boy growing up in the aptly named Fort Apache – or El Fuerte, as the locals call it – neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.

"I felt fear [when growing up], real fear, very often,” he says. “I remember lying in bed at night with my brothers and parents and hearing gunshots and screams right outside our window. That’s the way it was. You didn’t even think of leaving the house after dark. Eventually you get used to it, just enough to be able to fall asleep. But you know it’s not normal, you know it’s not right. I wouldn’t wish that kind of of childhood on anyone. What is wonderful now is that my daughter can learn English, be educated in Europe. Regardless of whether it will be in England or elsewhere, all the doors will be open for her. She will be able to pursue the things that make her happy. And she will continue to have opportunities." Tévez had his opportunity, too, and took it. The difference is that, unlike his daughter, he knew that, if his flame went out, there would be no one to light it again. It was up to him to protect and preserve it.

"I only realised I was going to become a professional footballer when I was 17, on the day I made my debut [for Boca Juniors]," he says. "Before that, it didn’t seem real. I went to training, I played with my friends, but it was all about having a good time. I had no idea whether I would make it or what would happen to me if I didn’t. But the day I became a professional, I told myself that this is my life now and I have to do things properly." Thus was born a single-mindedness that is shared by many of the greats. Tévez does not smoke or drink ("I just don’t like the taste of alcohol") and his diet borders on the ascetic. His life revolves around the home – spending time with his young family, a round of golf ("I’m not competitive, I don’t have a handicap"), a few DVDs. Plus, every night, like clockwork, a few hours in the gym doing extra training.

Three summers ago, Tévez led Argentina to gold at the Athens Olympic Games. Living cheek by jowl in the Olympic village with swimmers, cyclists, gymnasts and athletes who trained six to eight hours a day for a fraction of a footballers’ wage was an eye-opener. "A footballer isn’t used to living with athletes from other sports and seeing what their life is like," Tévez, 23, says. "It was an amazing experience, one which kind of brings you back to earth. It taught me a lot. I am convinced that a footballer can work, if not six hours a day, certainly four – maybe two in the morning and two in the afternoon. It’s easily done, it shouldn’t be a problem. Each one of us has a different physique. We should be doing individualised work-outs based on our body types and where we play. For example, I am not built or physically prepared to be a midfielder, running all around the pitch. I know exactly what my body needs and I know that my preparation has to be different from that of a defender or a midfielder.

In Tévez’s world, there is no "one size fits all". A footballer needs to be, above all, an athlete and it is his responsibility to take care of his talents. "I think that, if one is born with quality and gifts, that is down to God and it means you are privileged," he says. "I can’t stop thinking how lucky I am every time I step on the pitch. And I know I have to protect that gift." Otherwise the flame might go out. It is striking to hear Tévez talk about his lifestyle when one thinks about the man to whom he was most often compared as a youngster: Diego Maradona. The pair remain close and last week Claudia, Maradona’s former wife, phoned with an update on his condition, as well as to finalise details of Florencia’s birthday, which she is arranging.

"There are many things you can learn from seeing what happened to him," Tévez says. "He started with nothing and then he had it all. It’s difficult to go through the things he went through, to be known everywhere in the world, to be unable to walk out of your front door. I don’t want to live like that. I am aware of what I do and what it brings, but I don’t love the attention I get." And yet that attention has followed him everywhere. It could not be otherwise. Not when he guided Boca Juniors to a league, Libertadores Cup and Club World Championship treble before his 20th birthday. Not when his move to Corinthians in 2004, for a reported fee of $20 million (about £10 million), was the biggest transfer in the history of the sport outside of Europe. Not when he became the first Argentinian to conquer Brazilian football, leading Corinthians to the title and making even the usually navel-gazing Brazilians grudgingly choose him as their player of the year in 2005.

"To succeed in Brazil as an Argentine is a feeling you cannot explain," Tévez says. "The first two or three months were not great, but then I started earning the respect of those around me, above all the players. And that’s the most important thing. Whenever you arrive at a club, you have to earn the respect of your teammates. If you can do that, they will be there for you, they will protect you. But it is something which must be earned, it can’t be given. You don’t do it by trying to impress in training or trying to make friends. I did it humbly – head down, training normally. Little by little, I started showing who I was. I knew, even in the difficult times, that eventually people would see me for who I am. I guess I am lucky that way. I have faith in the fact that if I continue being myself, things will turn around. That’s why I don’t care what people say or write about me. I don’t read the papers, I am not interested in what they say. What matters is how they feel about me in the long run, after they’ve had a chance to know me."

Tévez makes no secret of the fact that adjusting to life at West Ham and playing in the Premiership was not easy, particularly with the club’s difficult season. He does not complain about the times he was left out or some of the suspicion that greeted his arrival. And he does not hide behind excuses. "I am a foreigner here, but I never felt it was a problem," he says. "I never felt treated differently because of it. I have stopped learning English as I don’t know where I am going to end up next season. But yes, it was hard to settle. The language is an issue – and I will learn English if I stay in this league – and, of course, the football here is different compared to Brazil or Argentina. In my opinion, it’s the most difficult competition in the world. That may be why so few people make it over here. Every Saturday you get kicked and you end up going home with marks all over your body. They hit you hard, they hit you everywhere – Premiership defenders are very strong individuals. And the referees allow a lot. They don’t interrupt the game as much as they do elsewhere. But you know what? I don’t mind all that, it makes me a better player, a stronger player."

On Monday, 24 hours after West Ham’s immediate future is decided, he will go home to Buenos Aires. He has plenty of relatives living in Fort Apache, although he moved his immediate family to a safer neighbourhood. Still, their new home, far from being tucked away in a gated community or a highrise penthouse, is less than a mile from where he was born. He knows where his roots lie. "Everything I am comes from where I am from," Tévez says. "I left to pursue football, but I go back whenever I can. I’ll hang out with my mates, throw some steaks on the grill and maybe even play a little football on the streets if anybody is kicking a ball around. It’s who I am."

That is what makes him proud. While he has had the talents and strength of character to preserve and nourish his flame, he remains the boy from Fort Apache. The two are not mutually exclusive. And maybe there are some children in El Fuerte who, even as the screams and gunfire provide a harrowing soundtrack, can draw inspiration from what Tévez has become.

The Times

No comments:


Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari