A string of petulant episodes tainted the Argentine's seven-year stint in the Premier League, but Greg Lea says Juventus's leading light is now a dependable force for good...
Looking back on it now, Carlos Tevez’s dubious arrival on English soil in summer 2006 set the tone for his entire Premier League career.
The image of him standing alongside Javier Mascherano and then-West Ham United manager Alan Pardew remains one of the most surreal of the last decade, and the subsequent fallout with Sheffield United over the Argentine's status as a third-party-owned player proved the first of many controversial events involving the boy from Buenos Aires.
Manchester United fans have never forgiven their former No.32 for the acrimonious nature of his departure to rivals Manchester City in 2009. The memorable ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster slapped across the city was seen as playful by some and antagonistic by others, but it felt perfectly apt that it was Tevez’s face splashed across the giant billboard, attracting attention and criticism in equal measure.
Despite having pleaded with Sir Alex Ferguson to re-sign the Argentine in the months before he quit Old Trafford, many United supporters later insisted they were glad to be rid of him.
It was a feeling shared by City followers just a couple of years later: the striker had already infuriated many at the club by publicly declaring his desire to leave in late 2010, and the bridge was finally burned in September 2011 when he appeared to refuse to come on as a substitute against Bayern Munich.
His talent couldn't be doubted, but many were wondering whether Tevez was worth the hassle anymore. A return to boyhood club Boca Juniors was widely touted, with many onlookers surmising that his career at the highest level of European football was over before he'd even hit 30.
TEVEZ IN EUROPE
- Group: Malmo (h): 2 goals
- Group: Malmo (a): 1 goal
- L16: Dortmund (h): 1 goal
- L16: Dortmund (a): 2 goals
Two years on, though, things are very different. Tevez, who turned 31 in February, has excelled at current club Juventus, taking Serie A by storm on the field and displaying belated maturity off it. With the Bianconeri poised to be crowned Italian champions and having reached the last eight of the Champions League by overcoming Dortmund, it's their reformed No.10 leading the charge on both fronts. It is strange to think now that the current campaign began with many questioning Tevez’s ability to perform on the biggest stage. Although Antonio Conte’s side romped to the Scudetto last term, breaking the all-time Serie A points record by winning 33 of their 38 games, they were underwhelming in the Champions League, exiting prematurely at the group stage after disappointing results against Copenhagen and Galatasaray. Tevez failed to score in six games, and embodied the club’s overall predicament: dominant in Italy, underachieving against the very best.
Two goals against Malmo in this year’s group stage was the first step towards dispelling those doubts. Incredibly, those strikes were Tevez’s first in the competition for four years – and Juventus fans would say they were worth the wait.
Memories of the previous season’s failings, combined with a goalless first half, made for a nervous crowd at the Juventus Stadium as the game wore on and Malmo refused to budge.
But the Argentine's class eventually told. His first goal was ruthlessly dispatched after Kwadwo Asamoah’s delightful lay-off, before he sealed the victory late on with a sumptuous free-kick.
The 31-year-old also netted against the same opposition in Sweden, but it was his displays against Dortmund in the last 16 that truly reaffirmed his position as one of the continent’s best strikers.
Tevez was superb in both legs as the Italians ran out 5-1 aggregate winners, demonstrating superb poise on the ball but also leading by example in general play.
Graft and guile
Indeed, it's his outstanding work ethic and commitment that has endeared him to supporters of The Old Lady, at least as much as his footballing qualities. His willingness to give everything has had an infectious impact on his team-mates: he doesn't yell or bawl, and has become a leader through his actions.
His versatility has also been of great benefit to boss Massimiliano Allegri. Conte preferred to deploy Tevez right up front as a No.9, instructing him to lead the pressing, but this also somewhat restricted his attacking contributions in the penalty box.
Yet it was a role that Tevez excelled in, as he netted 21 times en route to being named the club’s player of the year. It's not the only one in which he can perform: Allegri has withdrawn him slightly, positioning the Argentine deeper with Alvaro Morata or Fernando Llorente more advanced instead.
As his seven assists in Serie A so far this term indicate, Tevez is now more involved in build-up play, knitting the team together by linking midfield and attack.
If you ask the man himself, though, life in Italy's top flight is significantly harder than in England. "It's much easier to score in the Premier League, where the ball doesn't stop moving, the action is everywhere and the midfield is non-existent," he told La Repubblica at the weekend.
"Here you see six strikers up against five defenders, it's much more difficult than in England. The Italian league is of a high standard." Maybe, after everything, the diminutive frontman isn't quite ready to let bygones be bygones just yet.
Man on fire
Tevez has won league titles, domestic cups, the Copa Libertadores and the Champions League in his career, but it's difficult to argue that he isn't currently in the form of his life.
His ability was never really up for debate, though. It was the impression of him as a mischief-maker that was beginning to count against him, a perception that proved difficult to shake off such was the regularity of controversy. These unwanted disputes were a significant counterbalance to his natural gifts.
In Italy, however, there has been no need to weigh up the pros and cons. Tevez has rebuilt his reputation, not so much as a footballer but as a man who can be trusted to not rock the boat.
It may be long overdue, but the 31-year-old finally seems to have grown up, and Allegri’s Juve are reaping the rewards. Now there's the small matter of steering his side into the Champions League semis.