Published February 14, 2012
Not a moment too soon, Carlos Tevez appears ready to apologize. It seems Manchester City's ostracized striker has tired of twiddling his thumbs and playing golf while frittering away millions in fines and earnings lost by not playing. He says he wants to be a soccer player again to — try not to laugh — "win over the fans."
To which the answer must be: Not so fast, Carlos. Forgiveness has to be earned.
If there is to be redemption for Tevez, the player who has contributed more than most of late to giving overpaid soccer players a bad name, then he'll need to let his feet not his mouth do the talking. Score goals. Win matches. Make City the English champions for the first time since 1968. Those three things are the only way back for Tevez following his moment of madness in Munich. Alone, saying sorry, flowers and chocolates won't suffice.
There are two good reasons why City should offer a second chance to the player whom manager Roberto Mancini, in the heat of anger last September, insisted would never play again for the Premier League leaders.
The first is that it was never 100 percent clear just how badly Tevez behaved to make Mancini so furious.
Initially, Mancini said Tevez refused to come on as a substitute in City's 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
"He refused to play," the Italian said, an accusation that painted Tevez as a petulant mutineer.
Taking Mancini's word as gospel, soccer administrators and commentators lined up to denigrate the Argentine. A FIFA vice president described his behavior as "despicable" and said the world governing body, as with drug cheats, should have the power to ban him from the sport.
Former Liverpool great Graeme Souness called Tevez a "disgrace to football" who "epitomizes what the man in the street thinks is wrong with modern footballers." Bookmakers Betfair encouraged fans to ditch their Tevez shirts by providing them with a large bin that had the words "Goodbye Manchester" painted on it.
But Tevez had a different story. The way he tells it, he was willing to play but simply didn't want to warm up again when told. He took issue with the way Mancini spoke. "He ordered me like a dog to warm up," Tevez claimed this week in an interview with Fox Sports in Argentina.
Either way, Tevez's behavior smacks of insubordination. It's difficult to see a world of difference between refusing to play and not wanting to warm up. Tevez compounded his errors by subsequently going AWOL back to Argentina. "I was upset by the situation and needed to be with my family," he said.
Still, Mancini perhaps could have handled this better. The Italian possibly should have taken a few deep breaths before he vented his spleen to TV cameras, going public with a problem that maybe could have been handled in the locker room.
Soccer is an emotive and emotional game, with many big egos. Tempers flare. But not every club allows disputes between players and managers to explode into a full-blown soap opera like this one.
If Tevez's stated desire to now make amends is sincere, if he apologizes to Mancini and throws himself with vigor and a smile back into work on the training ground, then the manager should take the opportunity to move on.
"He has a lot of repairs to do with the fans and he realizes that and he has said that he is ready to apologize," Tevez's adviser, Kia Joorabchian, told broadcaster Sky Sports.
The other reason Tevez should play — even if only so City can show off his skills to potential buyers — is that he is too good not to. It's sad for soccer that a player with his talents is going to waste, like a sports car gathering dust or a Picasso in a basement. Tevez hasn't played for City since Sept. 21. Argentina international Sergio Aguero has been so spectacular in the meantime for City that Tevez hasn't been missed as much as he otherwise might have been.
For Mancini, having Tevez back isn't without risk. Will other players at City be happy to see him back or could his presence be poisonous for team morale and Mancini's authority, especially if Tevez is still sulky and rebellious? Has Tevez returned to Manchester with a genuine desire to play or simply to pick up his paycheck? Tevez's behavior in Munich tested Mancini's management; his return will, too.
But if Tevez quickly gets match-fit again after his five months of idleness, the 28-year-old's marauding energy in and around the box, his big-game experience and the goals he scores and creates could help City stay ahead of Manchester United in the three remaining months of the Premier League season and secure its first league title in 44 years.
That, at least, is the optimistic theory. It's for Tevez to turn it into reality if Mancini lets him. If — and only if — Tevez demonstrates again what a fine player he can be will he stop being soccer's rebel without a cause.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester