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Tevez, Kidd, Rooney and hypocrisy

When Carlos Tevez first returned to West Ham as a Manchester United player, he walked into the centre of the pitch and crossed his wrists in a salute familiar to any Hammer. Then he rigorously applauded the home fans â to an enthusiastic response.

Eyebrows were raised in the away end, but little said; even though they won that day, West Ham were as much of a threat to United as Manchester City have been for three decades. They were as irrelevant as the âÂÂBack ManchesterâÂÂs Host City Bidâ pitchside adverts at Old Trafford. (Public money is being wasted on those â as if an England World Cup bid wouldnâÂÂt feature Manchester.)

Tevez got a very different reaction when he applauded the Stretford End in the Manchester derby. Raised in Buenos Aires â a city with more derby games than any â he should understand derbies. He played for Boca Juniors, whose derby with River Plate is probably the planetâÂÂs most intense. He starred for Corinthians, whose match against Sao Paulo is among the most febrile in Brazil.

Tevez should know that derbies are not love-ins, nor for seeking approval by clapping rival fans. He honestly thought that he could go to Old Trafford and get a decent reaction from United fans.

From his point of view, he was a tireless performer in red for two years and felt heâÂÂd earned that respect, just as heâÂÂd done at West Ham. ItâÂÂs true that he was an industrious United performer, one of the best in the 2008 European Cup Final. He was so popular that thousands of United fans sang âÂÂFergie, sign him upâ following the final game of last season, choosing the inopportune moment of FergieâÂÂs appreciation speech.

Since he moved to Manchester City, there has been some staggering revisionism from United fans who, at the dash of a signature, decided he was worse than Ralph Milne and uglier than the Elephant man.

The Athletic Bilbao coach Joaquín Caparrós said: âÂÂIn football, you can go from whore to nun in five minutes.â HeâÂÂs right, and it works the other way.

Football fans operate in a self-serving pantomime of playground emotions. Arguments are selected to suit, rejection taken in its most base form - with spite. And hypocrisy thrives.

I saw United fans absolutely slaughter Alan Smith when he played for Leeds... and then welcome him when he moved to Old Trafford. Michael Owen was a dirty Scouse rat... until he signed for United. HeâÂÂs now the fourth most popular name on the back of shirts in the Old Trafford Megastore.

(Not that the people who buy replica shirts should be any barometer of credibility. Wayne Rooney is way out in front; while he plies his trade on the pitch, United fans sing songs about putting Scousers on a bonfire and burning it.)

Fans slate the media, yet they are the first to take the bait when the media whips up a feud before a big game like the Manchester derby. They hammer players for not speaking their mind and talking in clichés, then slaughter them when they actually speak their mind. Damned if they do...

IâÂÂve lost count of the number of emails in recent days from people whoâÂÂve decided that Mark Hughes â whom they idolised as a player â is a darker force than the Taliban. A few have had a real go at Brian Kidd.

Now I know Brian and I like him. He would have loved to return to Old Trafford at any time in the last 10 years, but that wouldnâÂÂt have happened with Sir Alex Ferguson in charge. So heâÂÂs spent most of the last few years commuting from his family home in Manchester and living in hotels away from his family. He was at Portsmouth last season and could have stayed, but itâÂÂs five hours from home.

HeâÂÂs taken a job heading up CityâÂÂs youth academy, where IâÂÂm sure heâÂÂll excel, though I wonder whether heâÂÂll keep his United season tickets. Some United fans are disappointed that he took the job. Did they want him to sit at home unemployed, away from the game he loves?

I spoke to Andrew Cole about this last week. âÂÂFans donâÂÂt always appreciate players signing for rival clubs, but fans arenâÂÂt professional footballers,â he said. âÂÂThey donâÂÂt have to make such choices between football clubs, but in their working lives fans have to make choices and do what is best for their career at that time.

âÂÂAs long as they give 100% to the company they work for, it shouldnâÂÂt bother anyone. ThatâÂÂs all I ever did, work my socks off to make whoever I played for a better team.âÂÂ

The problem comes because players have a different set of rules to fans, who apply morals they wouldnâÂÂt adhere to under the same circumstances. Fans hold up players like Ryan Giggs and Jamie Carragher as examples of loyal one-club men, but such players are very lucky and in a position most players would envy.

TheyâÂÂre at top clubs and have the choice whether to stay or go â 99% of professional footballers donâÂÂt (although it still amuses me that Gary Neville verbally abused Jordi Cruyff when he was linked with Liverpool and told him that he couldnâÂÂt move âÂÂto themâÂÂ).

Tevez had a choice, though, and he chose money, although heâÂÂll have his side of the story. Maybe other unsavoury elements made the decision for him. ItâÂÂs not black and white, but fans try and make it a black and white issue, hero or zero, in the same way they describe someone they donâÂÂt actually know as a âÂÂlegendâ or a âÂÂwankerâ simply because they did or didnâÂÂt stop to sign an autograph.

Tevez made his decision and heâÂÂs hardly the first footballer to follow the money route, but if he thinks he can come back and everything will be fine then heâÂÂs naïve. Then again, laughing as he left the field will hardly have endeared him to City fans, either...

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Andy Mitten
Andy Mitten

Andy Mitten is Editor at Large of FourFourTwo, interviewing the likes of Lionel Messi, Eric Cantona, Sir Alex Ferguson and Diego Maradona for the magazine. He also founded and is editor of United We Stand, the Manchester United fanzine, and contributes to a number of publications, including GQ, the BBC and The Athletic.